New research adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that there’s a link between allergies and reduced risk of a serious type of cancer that starts in the brain. This study suggests the reduced risk is stronger among women than men, although men with certain allergy profiles also have a lower tumor risk.
The study also strengthens scientists’ belief that something about having allergies or a related factor lowers the risk for this cancer. Because these tumors, called glioma, have the potential to suppress the immune system to allow them to grow, researchers have never been sure whether allergies reduce cancer risk or if, before diagnosis, these tumors interfere with the hypersensitive immune response to allergens.
Seeing this association so long before tumor diagnosis suggests that antibodies or some aspect of allergy is reducing tumor risk.
“It could be that in allergic people, higher levels of circulating antibodies may stimulate the immune system, and that could lower the risk of glioma,” said Schwartzbaum, also an investigator in Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The current study also suggested that women whose blood samples tested positive for specific allergy antibodies had at least a 50 percent lower risk for the most serious and common type of these tumors, called glioblastoma. This effect for specific antibodies was not seen in men. However, men who tested positive for both specific antibodies and antibodies of unknown function had a 20 percent lower risk of this tumor than did men who tested negative.
Glioblastomas constitute up to 60 percent of adult tumors starting in the brain in the United States, affecting an estimated 3 in 100,000 people.
The researchers measured the blood samples for levels of two types of proteins called IgE, or immunoglobulin E. This is a class of antibodies produced by white blood cells that mediate immune responses to allergens. Two classes of IgE participate in the allergic response: allergen-specific IgE, which recognizes specific components of an allergen, and total IgE, which recognizes these components but also includes antibodies with unknown functions.
In each sample, the scientists determined whether the serum contained elevated levels of IgE specific to the most common allergens in Norway as well as total IgE. The specific respiratory allergens included dust mites; tree pollen and plants; cat, dog and horse dander; and mold.
For men and women combined, testing positive for elevated total IgE was linked to a 25 percent decreased risk of glioma compared with testing negative for total IgE.
This work was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and a Research Enhancement and Assistance Program grant from Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.