Currently an area of great interest and focus in the medical research and in particular the cancer research world, are a set of types of cell known as regulatory T cells or Treg cells. Treg cells are part of our immune system and in effect, they suppress or stop the immune responses of other cells. Basically what Treg cells do is turn off an immune response once it has done its work of eliminating any invading 'bugs'. This is a vital function, otherwise our predatory immune system cells would stay on the rampage even after the threat had passed.
As you may know, the problem with cancers is that the cells in the body 'forget' to turn off and keep multiplying. These cancerous or non turning off cells then often keep growing out of control, eventually killing the individual concerned. So Treg cells essentially turn off the immune system response to prevent this happening.
It is already known that the immune system of mice and other animals tends to reduce in effectiveness when the animal is subject to chronic stress and anxiety, and in particular Treg cells become less effective and efficient at doing their job.
A study published this week in The Journal of Immunology has made a potential link between anxiety and cancer.
In this study nine patents were measured for their level of anxiety and the number and effectiveness of the Treg cells in their blood, both before and after an anxiety reduction programme. All of the patents were suffering from GAD or general anxiety disorder.
It was found that the patents had much lower levels of Treg cells in their blood, and those Treg cells that did exist were less efficient in the GAD patients.
These patients were then put on an eight week anxiety treatment programme and then tested again.
After the anxiety reduction programme it was found that the Treg cells had returned to normal levels and functioning. In effect the patents immune system had been returned to normal and was therefore allowing their systems to suppress and turn off immune responses as they were designed to do. The researchers state that this should reduce the risk of cancer in these individuals.
Now whilst it is early days yet with this research, and the numbers in this study were small, it is a strong indication about one possible mechanism of the proliferation of cancer.
As a result of this study the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia recommend that anxiety is treated as a matter course wherever it is found to reduce the potential risk of cancer.
This just highlights the importance of learning and developing genuine emotion regulation strategies and anxiety reduction techniques.
Akimova, T. et al (2014) Amelioration in generalized anxiety disorder is associated with decreased Treg number and function
The Journal of Immunology May 1, 2014 vol. 192 no. 1 Supplement 52.27