An article on BBC News online on 21 January 2020 suggested that a newly-discovered part of our immune system could be harnessed to treat all cancers.

The article is based on a research paper published in Nature Immunology by researchers at Cardiff University who found a possible way of altering T cells, which are an important part of the body’s natural defence system, to make them better able to recognise and kill a wide variety of cancer cells.

The research is still at an early stage and the technique has so far only been tested in mice and in isolated cancer cells in the laboratory but shows promise because in the experiments the altered T cells do not attach healthy or non-cancerous cells. While exciting, this technique is still a long way from being developed into a treatment that works in humans that is safe, feasible and affordable.

CAR-T is another established immunotherapy technique which modifies T cells to make them more reactive to cancer; but CAR-T is proving too costly to roll our as a standard treatment at the moment and works in only a limited number of cancers and has struggled to have any success in ‘solid cancers’.

The role of the immune system in detecting and destroying cancer cells is now universally recognised as a key factor affecting cancer outcomes. Many of the integrative and lifestyle approaches included in Penny Brohn UK’s Bristol Whole Life Approach, such as nutrition, mindfulness, stress management, relaxation and physical activity have been shown to improve immune function. When selected carefully and used integratively; these approaches can be safely used alongside immunotherapy treatments and other conventional treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Emerging evidence suggests that integrative approaches may increase the effectiveness of some conventional cancer treatments. Complementary therapies are generally safe, affordable and improve overall quality of life and wellbeing.

While we wait for further breakthroughs in immunotherapy and other cancer treatments; it makes sense to include a wide range of evidence-informed approaches to help people affected by cancer to live as well as possible for as long as possible.

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