Immunizations May Prevent Some Cancers
A well-respected team of researchers from one of the nation's leading medical centers, the Houston Medical Center, has published a strong association that suggests that childhood immunization may decrease the risk of developing childhood cancer, in particular childhood leukemia, brain tumors, and lymphoma.
This rather remarkable claim at this point is simply an observation. The authors report that if you look at thousands and thousands of children across Texas who did and did not develop these cancers, a pattern emerges in which those who received immunizations were less likely to develop the most common forms of childhood cancer. The overall reduction in the childhood cancers studied was 20% and for some immunizations the level of prevention went as high as nearly 40%. A curious linkage between chickenpox and brain tumors was found as well, where getting the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine or the actual disease decreased the chance of developing brain tumors.
No one knows for sure what the cause of this observation is. We are not even sure if the observation will yield a real cause-link between getting immunizations and less cancer in childhood or whether something else related to getting immunized is the explanation. The authors did a very good job of eliminating other possible causes such as parental education, social status, smoking, age, and many other possible influences.
If this observation stands up to further scrutiny, it will advance the compelling emergence of the very curious "hygiene hypothesis." This concept emerged from the fact that allergies are raging across the developed world. In the 1960's only about 0.1% of men in Finland had any sort of allergic disease (eczema, hay fever, asthma). Now about 11% do. One explanation being put forward is that as the modern world has reduced the burden of infectious diseases, the immune system has switched from killing deadly germs to attacking harmless substances like dust, pollen, and milk. There is actually a growing body of proof to support this idea. We can measure the level of dirt that kids on farms eat, and the more dirt they eat, the less allergy they develop, and at no cost, they have no more actual infections, just more exposure to a wider variety of germs.
The idea flies directly in the face of the fear of germs and also against the widely held belief that a newborn's immune system is a delicate thing that best not be perturbed. The hygiene hypothesis boldly states that the developing immune system needs a good fight to properly mature, and failing that it will take matters into its own hands and start picking fights that cause the child to have allergies.
Now, the researchers in Houston have added more fuel to this intriguing idea, by observing that perturbing the immune system with shots may actually help it prevent childhood cancer. Again, this is not an observation that has any explanation proven yet. But in these days of grave concern over the impact of immunizing children against many illnesses, I felt it was urgent that families know that it may turn out that immunizing their children will do far more than protect them against dangerous infections, it may help their immune system protect them against cancer.
Please also note that this research received no support from any drug company and had no other conflict of interest as well.
A trustworthy group of researchers from one of country's leading medical centers has found an association between having your child fully immunized and a 20-40% drop in the chance of developing childhood leukemia, brain tumor, and lymphoma.
If this finding holds up, the entire concept that the newborn immune system is fragile system that must be kept at peace will be shattered and a more realistic vision of a baby's immune system will emerge- it must be used to work well.
Dr. Arthur Lavin
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