Brain Cancer Preceded by Immune Changes Detected in Blood

Dampened cytokine interaction may indicate asymptomatic glioma.

Changes to the immune system related to tumor growth may occur up to 5 years before the onset of brain cancer symptoms, according to a new study published by PLOS ONE.

Specifically, the authors discovered that interactions between proteins that relay information between immune cells are diminished in the blood of patients with brain cancer 5 years prior to diagnosis. These results could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The study examined changes related to gliomas, which comprise the vast majority of brain cancer cases. The average survival for this type of cancer is 14 months.

Patients may experience headaches, memory loss, personality changes, blurred vision, and trouble speaking, according to the study. Typically, patients are diagnosed 3 months after symptom onset when the disease is advanced.

“It’s important to identify the early stages of tumor development if we hope to intervene more effectively,” said lead researcher Judith Schwartzbaum, PhD. “If you understand those early steps, maybe you can design treatments to block further tumor growth.”

Although widespread blood tests for asymptomatic patients would be impractical, the authors believe that these findings could lead to novel techniques to identify early-stage brain cancer and better treatments.

Included in the study were blood samples from 974 patients, 50% of whom received a brain cancer diagnosis.

The team of researchers were interested in the role of cytokines, which are proteins that communicate with other cytokines and immune cells to initiate an immune response. The authors previously discovered that allergies may protect against brain cancer.

In the current study, the authors examined 277 cytokines in the blood samples and discovered that the proteins interacted less in the blood of patients who developed cancer, according to the study.

“There was a clear weakening of those interactions in the group who developed brain cancer and it’s possible this plays a role in tumor growth and development,” Dr Schwartzbaum said.

Cytokine activity is crucial in terms of cancer since it can fight tumor growth, but it can also suppress the immune system and support cancer, according to the study.

The authors also found that a few types of cytokines may play a role in glioma development, which could be harnessed in the future for cancer prevention.

While additional studies are necessary before it could lead to early diagnosis of brain cancer, it offers important insight into the changes associated with the development of brain cancer, according to the study.

“It’s possible this could also happen with other tumors — that this is a general sign of tumor development,” Dr Schwartzbaum concluded.