Perspectives on cancer immuno-epidemiology

Cancer Sci. 2004 Dec;95(12):921-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1349-7006.2004.tb03178.x.


Estimating human cancer risk based on host-environment interaction is one task of epidemiology, and it has provided indispensable knowledge for prevention of cancer. The recent develop-ment of gene-engineered mice has also provided solid evidence about the relationship between cancer development and immunity. The aim of this review is to discuss the possible contribution of epidemiology to understanding the role of immunity in host defense against cancer, and also to assess the involvement of inflammation in the occurrence of selected cancers. Here we look at the concepts of cancer immunosurveillance and infection-inflammation-cancer, and include a brief introduction to recent studies in humans and experimental animal models. It has been postulated for many years that the immune system has the ability to recognize and eliminate nascent transformed cells in the body (so-called cancer immunosurveillance hypothesis), and this idea has recently obtained strong support from animal experiments. In humans, follow-up studies among immunosuppressed transplant recipients revealed a remarkably increased risk of not only selected malignancies, but also cancers with no known viral etiology. On the other hand, a prospective cohort study among the general population revealed that individuals with low natural cytotoxic activity of peripheral blood lymphocytes had an increased risk of cancer development. More studies are warranted to allow the construction of a model for the interaction between host immunity, aging, and the environment. The host immune system is also involved in inflammatory responses to pathogen infection: insufficient immune function of the host, or repeated infection, may result in persistent inflammation, where growth/survival factors continuously act on initiated cells. The combined use of biomarkers will be necessary to define low-grade persistent inflammation in future cohort studies; and, in addition to these phenotype marker-based cohort studies, one plausible future direction will be a genomic approach that can be undertaken within cohort studies, looking at the genetic background underlying individual variations in phenotype markers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Surveillance
  • Inflammation
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*