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Your allergies could help you fight off cancer

If you have a contact allergy, merely touching the wrong metal or chemical is enough to send your immune system into overdrive, triggering hives, swelling and general unpleasantness. However, it seems that this sensitivity may have a positive side effect: your hair-trigger immune system could be better at fighting off cancer.

In a long-term study of 17,000 Danish people, scientists found that having contact allergies was correlated with lower occurrences of certain cancers. When adjusted for age and sex, there was a significant negative association between the allergic reaction and breast cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer in both men and women, and brain cancer in women. However, there was an increased risk for bladder cancer.


The researchers think that the reason why having contact allergies could help is what's known as the "immunosurveillance hypothesis", where your immune system so keyed up that it will attack almost anything, making it prepared for cancer, but also freaking out at the drop of the hat. Why the increase in risk for bladder cancer? Possibly, say researchers, it's because allergies and chronic inflammation stimulate cell growth, which gives malignancies a better chance to spread.

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Dr Emilio Lizardo

For a 17,000 person population based study this is a really poor study.

Retrospective linkage of two registries? Shudder. In the US all malignancies are registered by SEER and the NCCDB. Denmark is probably no worse. On the other hand, I don't know how zelous people are about registering people on a contact allergy database. Even if they were, how accurate is it? A malignancy is almost always proven with pathology. Little room for argument. How does the registry prove contact allergy? Some people tell me they are allergic to tape. What happens? It hurts when it gets peeled off and leaves a red mark. I'm not an allergist but that's not an allergy.

The confidence intervals for every malignancy excpet bladder, breast and non-melanoma skin cross unity and those come close enough to make me wonder. They measured 16 different sites and three were positive. I'm not a statistician, but that is not earth shattering.