Is there a connection between cytokines and cancer?

The link between cytokines and cancer appears to be that cancer increases cytokine levels, and both are linked to symptoms of depression. Patients receiving cancer treatments to get rid of tumors tend to experience a higher incidence of depression. This is due to the cytokines contained in the drugs. Additionally, cytokine levels are known to naturally increase in the body due to prolonged physical or emotional stress.

Cytokines, a type of protein, essentially regulate the hormones that communicate with the body's immune system. The link between cytokines and cancer appears to be related to an increase in the number of cytokines actively circulating in a patient's bloodstream. They are considered pro-inflammatory and tend to irritate the body.

Cytokines and cancer are linked, as cancer puts a lot of pressure on the immune system. An increase in cytokines may be the body's inflammatory response to infection. Higher levels of these proteins cause many emotional and physical symptoms that resemble depression. These symptoms include suicidal thoughts, lethargy, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, and decreased sexual desire.

It is somewhat difficult to determine if depression occurs as a result of an increased level of cytokines or if depression occurs as a side effect of having cancer. Increased levels of cytokines are seen in people experiencing long-term physical or emotional stress, including illness. What is certain is that the link between cytokines and cancer results in the progression of symptoms commonly associated with depression.

Patients with some forms of cancer receive therapy drugs and treatment protocols that contain cytokine proteins. These are often called TH2 cytokines and are sometimes used to treat conditions such as leukemia and melanoma. TH2 cytokine treatments aim to destroy tumors and cancer cells that could later develop into tumors. When these types of treatments are given, patients are at increased risk of developing depression in addition to what is sometimes called "sickness syndrome."

Symptoms of "sickness syndrome" include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and hypotension. Symptoms of depression may or may not accompany them, but there is a 50 percent chance that they will. When TH2 cytokine treatments are stopped, symptoms of depression and "sickness syndrome" generally decrease.

Some think that the drugs raise the body's cytokine levels even higher by releasing the proteins from tumors or cancer cells. Regardless of how they are elevated, the main link between cytokines and cancer is that the disease or its treatments lead to abnormal levels. It is these higher levels that contribute to the uncomfortable side effects.

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