Immune System Can Have Long Recovery After Breast Cancer Chemo
Chemotherapy after breast cancer can weaken a woman's immune system for as long as nine months, according to a new study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research.
This effect, said researchers, could leave patients with insufficient resilience to common infections, such as pneumonia and tetanus, even if they already had been immunized.
The study monitored 88 primary breast cancer patients at various intervals from two weeks to nine months after chemotherapy completion. Researchers also had data on all but 26 of the patients before they started chemotherapy. They monitored levels of various parts of the immune system, including antibodies and a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes.
The data showed that levels of major lymphocytes, such as T cells, B cells and natural killer cells -- which protect against infection by viruses and bacteria -- dropped significantly following chemotherapy.
The effect was only short-term for most types of lymphocyte -- they returned to pre-chemotherapy levels within nine months. But the B cells and helper T cells only returned to 65 percent of their pre-chemotherapy levels by the six-month mark, and they were still at that level three months later.
The researchers also noted that smoking seems to have an effect, with some immune cells reaching only 50 percent of their pre-chemotherapy in smokers, while they reached 80 percent in non-smokers.
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