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Making Patients Sicker May Help Them Fight Cancer

It’s clear that the human immune system is really no match for cancer. At least, this has been the conventional wisdom for quite some time. Yet, scientists know the immune system fights cancer, and therefore have hypothesized that if we can optimize our body’s defense system it could potentially be able to fight tumors. In order to do this, some researchers have suggested using infection to fight cancer.

It certainly sounds risky – infecting a cancer patient with an unrelated illness. However, studies have shown that when our bodies attack pathogens, the immune system goes into overdrive. In fact, infectious diseases, especially those that cause high fever, have been shown to successfully reduce tumor size or result in full-on remission since as early as the 1890s. During that time, a physician by the name of William B. Coley used a high-fever inducing infection called erysipelas to varying degrees of success on sarcoma patients.

Unfortunately, due to the high death risk and unstable results, Dr. Coley could never adapt the practice for wide spread use. This very problem is what stands in the way of applying infection treatment to cancer patients in the modern world.

Resource:

Healing Heat: Harnessing Infection to Fight Cancer

http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/2009/1/healing-heat/1