If you suffer from severe allergies, you may find it hard to understand how your discomfort could actually turn out to be a real blessing. But some researchers believe that the sneezing, itchy eyes, nose and throat and tiredness that go along with different types of hay fever and allergic reactions could actually be protective.
Allergies and Cancer
Though the correlation seems unbelievable, several studies have discovered that having allergies may lower your risk of getting certain types of cancers. So the misery you suffer might really be the lesser of two evils.
The jury is still out as to exactly how allergies and cancer interrelate, but there are several different theories as to why having allergies seems to lower the risk of getting a cancer diagnosis.
The Theories that Exist
Both allergies and cancer affect the immune system, but doctors suggest that the way they do this can differ a great deal and this programming may be at the heart of deciding which condition you will get. In allergies, the immune system has a heightened response to various triggers, while in cancer, the problem could stem from an immunodeficiency instead. Therefore, one thought is that most people whose immune response is hyper reactive may be less likely to be programmed to develop cancer.
Another possible theory to try to explain exactly why some types of allergies can protect you against some types of cancers is that when your immune system is programmed to fight off cancer cells, the actual process may also cause the hyper responsive state that triggers the allergic reactions you experience.
Regardless of why and how it occurs, though, recognizing the relationship between allergies and cancer that exists could actually make your seasonal symptoms seem much easier to bear this year.
The Findings on Allergies and Cancer
It is not only nasal allergies that seem to lower the risk of developing cancer. A study looking at eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) found that this skin reaction decreased the risk of being diagnoses with several types of cancers, including pancreatic cancer, brain cancer and childhood leukemia.
Another study, this one looking at the risk of getting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, found that atopic dermatitis didn't offer protection against this specific disease, but having hay fever and food allergies did greatly reduce the odds of getting it.
It is also interesting to note that some researchers say that the protective factor that allergies bring actually contradicts their expectations in how allergies and cancer are related. In fact, some experts admit that would have thought the immune system reaction that occurs with allergies would be more likely to increase the susceptibility to developing cancer cells as well. But in a surprising twist, just the opposite seems to be true. This finding is certainly good news for you.
So next time your allergies make you sneeze, just keep in mind that it may not actually end up being such a bad thing.
MY AMAZING STORY
Maybe you've heard the words "medical intuitive."
Maybe you even know what a medical intuitive is. Some of them, like Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz, who lives in Yarmouth, Maine, are M.D.s (Schulz is actually an M.D., Ph.D.) Some, like Carolyn Myss, a popular champion of so-called "energy medicine," are not doctors at all. But what they've all got in common is an uncanny ability to diagnose diseases over the telephone in people they have never met.
OK, OK, so I can hear some of you laughing at this notion.
Before August 6, 2003, I probably would have laughed too.
But I swear to you what I am about to tell you really happened to me.
I was in L.A. visiting my sister. A few days before, I had phoned a medical intuitive, a woman in Stowe, Vermont whose first name is Karin. We had never met. We had spoken only for a couple of minutes, to arrange for the "reading."
She knew absolutely nothing about me, only my first name. She knew nothing at all of my medical history, i.e., she had no idea that I had been treated aggressively for Hodgkin's Disease (lymphoma) the summer before.
Nor did she know that my doctor at Sloan Kettering was insisting, in the summer of 2003, that I need to be treated again, this time with a stem cell transplant, an even more aggressive medical treatment that basically scours out your immune system. It puts you at death's door, in order to "heal" you.
I had told the doctor at Sloan that I didn't need the procedure. And ultimately, I would be proven right. Ultimately, another cancer specialist, Dr. George Canellos, at Dana Farber in Boston, would confirm that I did not need the stem cell transplant.
Anyway, back to the medical intuitive.
I had phoned Karin at the suggestion of my sister-in-law, Jo, who lives in Vermont. Jo had told me only that talking to the intuitive "would blow my mind."
I was kind of desperate at that point. I had that doctor at Sloan breathing down my neck, insisting I needed the stem cell. I had also made a trip to Dana Farber, and the second doctor was reviewing my medical records.
I was in limbo, waiting to hear from the doctor at Dana Farber.
I was terrified. And there I was in L.A.
Karin had instructed me to call her at 7 a.m. L.A. time. I did. My sister was asleep down the hall.
Karin told me simply to lie quietly for about 45 minutes. "You will feel very heavy," she said. "After the feeling passes, call me back."
I lay down as instructed, and my limbs went lead. My body started to feel like a puddle of liquid cement. And then, about 45 minutes later, the feeling lifted. And then I called Karin back. And that's when the weird stuff happened.
The first thing she asked me was, "Did your mother have lung cancer?"
"No," I responded.
"Did your mother have a serious lung illness?"
My jaw dropped. "Well, yes," I whispered. "She had asthma, and it was often very serious."
I didn't tell her about all the times, as a very young child, that I would sit by my mother's bed, as she hunched over a pile of pillows, gasping for breath. I didn't tell her about all the times I had, as a four or five year old child, to take care of my mother, and my baby sister, who was now grown up and asleep down the hall.
I never said a word about any of that.
"OK," Karin said. "Your own illness is tied up with your mother's. You harbor a deep resentment toward your mother over her illness, over what it did to you. The fear it left you with. You need to deal with that resentment and fear in order to heal."
My head started spinning. But that was just the beginning.
She went on. Somehow, she knew.
This: "You've got one spot of cancer to cure, on the left side of your chest, right below your heart, above your diaphragm, next to your sternum."
"Yes," I murmured. I said only, "yYes." What I didn't say: that at my follow up visit at Sloan Kettering a few weeks before, a routine CT scan had showed one spot of Hodgkin's lymphoma in EXACTLY the position she described. A biopsy needle mark remained on my chest as proof.
I said nothing. I just sat there, my mouth cottony, my heart banging inside my chest. I held my breath, waiting for what she would say next. Would she say I needed the dreaded stem cell transplant?
"You will heal, then, you will respond to the chemo, but you must come to grips with your resentment, with the underlying anger you have, the anger and resentment that lingers there in your chest, toward your mother."
That's all she said. I made arrangements to send her a check, and then I hung up the phone and stared into the ceiling. Confused. Amazed. Scared. I was trained as a newspaper reporter. I had always been a rather skeptical person. But now, all of a sudden. My blood felt like it was flowing in a whole new direction.
I had just witnessed something that I absolutely could not explain. I placed my hands over my chest, over the spot, and I waited for a moment. I felt my heart beat. I felt weak and transparent, as if all the world could see right through me.
I did not tell my sister what happened. My sister is trained as a nurse, and at the time, I didn't think she would believe me. I didn't think she would automatically agree that what I had experienced was nothing short of a miracle.
But a few hours later, though, another miracle occurred. It was about 10 a.m. I had just stepped into the shower. As the hot water flooded me, I heard a knock on the bathroom door. I stuck my head outside the shower.
My sister was holding the phone. "It's your husband," my sister said, her eyes brimming in tears. "He just spoke to Dr. Canellos at Dana Farber. Canellos just confirmed that the spot you've got is a left over from last summer, not a new spot. You don't need the stem cell after all. "
As I took the phone into my wet hands, and heard the news for myself from my husband, tears started to fall. I stood there, awash in water and blissful tears, as happy as I've ever been in my entire life.
I hear about new cases of cancer all the time. I am often called upon by friends and family to "counsel" other people suffering with cancer.
I hear about Ted Kennedy's brain tumor, and I wonder, how would a medical intuitive "explain" it.
Today, almost five years later, I have finally found the courage to write about this day, about these puzzling and amazing events. About a day when a medical intuitive set my head spinning in a new direction.
Honestly, it has been spinning ever since.
Two contradictory hypotheses have been proposed to explain the relationship between allergic conditions and malignancies, the immune surveillance hypothesis and the antigenic stimulation hypothesis. The former advocates that allergic conditions may be protective against development of cancer, whereas the latter proposes an increased risk. This relationship has been studied in several case-control studies, but only in a few cohort studies.
The association between allergic conditions and risk of developing leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and myeloma was investigated in a cohort of 16,539 Swedish twins born 1886–1925. Prospectively collected, self-reported information about allergic conditions such as asthma, hay fever or eczema was obtained through questionnaires administered in 1967. The cohort was followed 1969–99 and cancer incidence was ascertained from the Swedish Cancer Registry.
Hives and asthma tended to increase the risk of leukemia (relative risk [RR] = 2.1, 95% Confidence Interval [CI] 1.0–4.5 and RR = 1.6, 95% CI 0.8–3.5, respectively). There was also an indication of an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma associated with eczema during childhood (RR = 2.3, 95% CI 1.0–5.3).
In contrast to most previous studies, our results do not indicate a protective effect of allergic conditions on the risk of developing hematological malignancies. Rather, they suggest that allergic conditions might increase the risk of some hematological malignancies.