Understanding Your Immune System

Now that we have discussed the importance of evaluating a cancer patient’s immune system before any treatment is started, we will discuss the specific blood tests we use to get a detailed summary of a person’s immune system.

  1. Complete Blood Count (CBC) – this blood test gives information on a person’s red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), and platelets.  The red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of the body.  White blood cells are the cells that fight off infection.  There are several types of white blood cells, and each has a unique purpose.  Chemotherapy usually makes the white blood cells very low.  The platelets help with clotting to prevent too much bleeding when someone hurts themselves.
  2. Total Serum Immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM, IgA, & IgE) – this blood test measures several antibodies in the blood that are responsible for defending us against infection.  Each immunoglobulin or antibody has a certain job such as IgA tends to help fight infections throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract and in the lungs. IgG has the ability to enter certain tissues to fight infections. IgE is associated with allergic reactions.  IgM is the first one on the scene of an infection and also helps stimulate other immune cells to fight off foreign bodies.
  3. Lymphocyte Phenotyping– the most common lymphocytes are the T cell and the B cells.  The T cell has several subtypes of cells that help stimulate a person’s immune system to fight infection or a foreign body.  The B cell makes antibodies and can help stimulate more T cells to help fight infection or foreign bodies.
  4. Lymphocyte Blastogenesis Assay (LBA) – this assay determines if a patients immune system can recognize certain cancer proteins or even a patient’s own cancer.  It is helpful to have a small sample of the person’s actual cancer to put in this test to determine if a person’s immune system can determine the cancer is a “foreign body”.

These blood tests help us in understanding your immune system.  We can figure out if the immune system has the components to adequately put up a “fight.” We ultimately want to make the body think the cancer is a foreign body and to fight it.  Most cancer’s disguise themselves and fly under the radar of the immune system and that’s why they can grow and spread throughout the body.  Our immune system is constantly fighting every day.

At our center, our goal is to help boost the immune system so it can fight off cancer.

Until next time,

Robert L Elliott, M.D., Ph.D.

Catherine C Baucom, M.D., Ph.D.