Stephen Kintz
Oct 23, 2011

Allergies have a secret benefit

Sufferers of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) have all experienced the days of runny noses, swollen red eyes and itchy skin. Most allergy sufferers have probably tried steroids, decongestants, and antihistamines to get relief from the plague of symptoms that ruin days and lengthen nights. Unfortunately, allergy sufferers should probably not throw away their current method of treatment. There is still not a cure, nor is there any better treatment. I do have some interesting news, however. Calboliand colleagues have demonstrated in a new study that will be published in an upcoming issue of the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute” that allergy sufferers might have a reduced risk of adult glioma (brain cancer).


Allergy symptoms, be they related to food or to breathing, are caused by the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) responding to specific allergens (like ragweed pollen or dust mites). Therefore, allergy sufferers usually have higher levels of IgE than non-allergy sufferers. In this new study, Calboli and colleagues combined the data from four cohort studies (longitudinal studies) to measure the association between levels of IgE and the risk of adult glimoa. The researchers found that higher-than-normal levels of IgE are associated with a reduced risk for brain cancer.


While studies since the early 1990s have shown that higher levels of IgE might lead to a reduced risk of brain cancer, these earlier studies were often case studies that relied on patient reported data. In the innovative study by Calboli and colleagues, the researchers used blood samples from pre-diagnosed subjects to demonstrate a direct association between pre-cancer IgE levels and risk of brain adult glimoa.


However, it is still unknown why higher levels of IgE lead to a reduced risk for brain cancer. It is possible that allergy sufferers have a heightened immune system, which is why their body treats the allergens as a threat. The heightened immune system would recognize and destroy any cells that display early signs of cancer. Yet there does not appear to be any correlation between levels of IgE and immune system strength. It is possible that IgE might play an important role in preventing tumor growth, which has been demonstrated in ovarian cancer in mice. Whatever the role of IgE in reducing someone’s risk for brain cancer, the study by Calboli and colleagues demonstrates enough of an association between IgE and brain cancer that, hopefully, more research will lead to a better understanding of the immune system and, maybe, a treatment for brain cancer.


So, allergy sufferers might not be able to put away the pills and nasal sprays. Allergy sufferers might have to endure sinus headaches and runny noses. Allergy sufferers cannot stop carrying around a box of tissue. All of this can be especially annoying during autumn when the trees shed their leaves and, sadly, pollen. However, I hope it is a little comforting to know that the same class of antibody that causes so many problems is also hard at work protecting you against very nasty form of cancer that has ten thousand new cases a year in America.