Resistance and tolerance defenses in cancer: Lessons from infectious diseases

Semin Immunol. 2017 Aug;32:54-61. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2017.08.004. Epub 2017 Aug 31.


Infectious disease and cancer are two maladies with multiple similarities. Both types of disease induce activation of the host immune response and induce pathologies that compromise host heath and survival. In infection biology, defense against pathogens can be broken down into two distinct components called resistance and tolerance. Resistance protects the host by killing pathogens. Tolerance protects the host by alleviating the pathology caused by the infection. The conceptual framework of resistance and tolerance, concepts explored during infectious disease, is applicable to cancer, a condition for which patient survival is dependent on tumor eradication (resistance) and the mitigation of pathologies that occur during disease (tolerance). Here, we propose that integration of the concept of disease tolerance into cancer studies will result in new therapies to complement current resistance-based treatment strategies to increase the likelihood of patient survival and to improve quality of life. Furthermore, by drawing parallels between infectious disease and cancer, we propose that host interactions with microbes could provide therapeutic insight for promoting tolerance defense and focus our discussion on cachexia, a pathology resulting in significant morbidity in cancer patients.

Keywords: Anorexia; Cachexia; Cancer; Infectious disease; Resistance; Tolerance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cachexia / immunology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Infections / immunology*
  • Microbiota / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Quality of Life