LIFESTYLE OPINION TOP STORIES

Post chemotherapy may leave patients vulnerable to infections

 

Mr. Raktim Chattopadhyay

The link between the immune system and cancer has been widely appreciated for over a century and was first highlighted by Rudolph Virchow over 150 years ago. The underlying basis for this relationship between cancer and immunity involves three basic principles of how the immune system acts to defend and protect an individual: it detects “nonself” antigens from pathogens or infected/malignant cells; it encompasses effector functions to specifically target and destroy the pathogen or infected/malignant cells while protecting the host, and it develops immunological memory via the adaptive immune responses for subsequent defence mechanisms following an injury or an attack against the host. Through this process, the immune system has acquired characteristics that give rise to the paradigm known as immunoediting, which provides a balance between immune surveillance and cancer progression in the realm of oncology. In the rapidly evolving field of immune-oncology, understanding the tumor-specific immune response enhances understanding of cancer resistance. 

Most cancer patients know that chemo therapy weakens their immune systems, putting them at risk for viral and bacterial infections. A month or two after chemo ends, most people think their immune system has returned to normal. Research suggests that the effects of chemotherapy can compromise part of the immune system for up to nine months after treatment, leaving patients vulnerable to infections – especially with  certain type of chemotherapy treatment regimen.

So, cancer and cancer treatments can affect the immune system and other body systems in different ways. People with cancer might be more likely to get infections because of:

  • The cancer itself
  • Certain types of cancer treatment
  • Poor nutrition
  • Other health problems or medications that aren’t related to cancer

Cancer treatments can interfere with the way the immune system works. The damage can be short- or long-term. For example, if a person with cancer has their spleen removed due to cancer, this causes long-term damage because the spleen is part of the immune system. On the other hand, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy, either alone or in combination can lead to short-term (temporary) immune system damage because they affect immune system blood cells for a fairly short period of time. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant uses very high-dose treatments to kill cancer cells that also damage immune system cells for weeks to months.

Keeping the above in mind cancer patients must consider the following as per international guidelines:

  • Don’t ignore minor symptoms. If you are feeling unwell, get to your doctor and get it checked out right away. What may be a minor issue could turn into something bigger.
  • Talk to your health care provider to make sure you’re up to date on all of your vaccines. Many cancer patients after treatment should be able to receive many vaccines, including flu and pneumonia vaccines.
  • Exercise and eat healthfully. Those things never hurt immune response or your recovery.
  • If you smoke, try to quit.
  • If someone in your family or in your care has cancer, make sure you’re up to date on vaccines and preventive care. The last thing you want to do is develop an infection that doesn’t allow you to care for them or puts them at risk.
  • Since patients are most at risk right after they’ve received chemo. It’s really important to protect your family members when they’re at the highest risk for major infectious complications.

Supporting the immune system while battling cancer is imperative and one of the factors that aid in the healing process from the aftermath of the treatment therapy. Protective effects can be observed while balancing dietary and lifestyle needs, however, these alone do not promise an immunity boost. The immune system works as powerful weapon against disease, but it is a known fact that with cancer, immunity is at high risk – where healthy cells are attacked causing a variety of side effects.

Cancer patients are at a natural high risk of malnutrition as chemotherapies, radiations and surgeries can lead to loss of appetite, stress, fatigue, anxiety making it difficult to eat with a high appetite loss. This leads to a significant reduced response in cancer treatment, increases risk of survival. Cancer cells replicate by division to replace old cells and multiply – thus some damaged cells might migrate to other tissues causing tumour growth. The longer, cancer continues to grow the lesser possibilities are available for the immune system to recognize damaged cells and destroy them.

Vitamins, foods, minerals are recommended by doctors – but a key concern to examine is – are these long term & sustainable to ensure a quality life for patients?

A need for preparing the body for a heavy dose of cancer treatment at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, and post-procedure is important for long term risk benefits. All 3 phases are different and require nutritional care basis the cell biology of the body. Health supplements of the correct formulation with technology backed research can be an optimum solution. The supplements can bring about efficacy in the main therapy of cancer disease management and improve the overall quality of life.

Time has come to focus on the optimal physical and psycho-social well-being of the patient in cancer therapy. The treatment of a lethal and supposedly incurable disease like cancer takes a toll on people emotionally, financially, and physically. The right approach for organizations to help mitigate the risks of cancer through various methods would be to have an all-inclusive outlook catering to all of the above effects. The goal should be to help and support the end-user with a view of futuristic need for living a fulfilling life even after being cured while focusing on every aspect of oncology. A certain kind of after care is always mandatory during & post-treatment which could be complex and costly. Anticancer products is the future, which will have to align parallel in such a way so the therapy protocol can be made affordable to the receivers.

 

Mr. Raktim Chattopadhyay is the Founder & CEO of Esperer Onco Nutrition (EON)