Our body has an efficient defense system against external threats: it is the immune system, formed by different types of cells with varying functions that work together to recognize and eliminate external invaders such as bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses that may attack and undermine our health.
Our immune defenses are naturally vigilant and ready to respond in case of emergency by taking all the necessary steps to protect the body and keep it in good health.
The immune system is composed of two lines of defense: non-specific or innate immunity and specific or adaptive immunity.
Non-specific or innate immunity is present at birth and includes the skin, the mucous membranes lining body parts that open to the external environment - such as mouth, nose and ears - and secretions such as saliva and sweat. When a harmful agent overcomes this first line of defense, the body reacts by producing cells and substances that respond to the attack and repair the induced damage.
Specific or adaptive immunity develops after birth, during the first year of life, and increases with exposure to the pathogenic agents that must be fought. As it is a tailored response of the body that is based on the type of infectious agent, specific or adaptive immunity is much faster and effective than innate immunity and can be enhanced by vaccination. It is a targeted defense against specific antigens, i.e. substances that our body is unable to recognize.
Therefore, an efficient immune system has the ability to protect the body against attacks.
Since tumor cells are agents that attack our body, they are antigens and as such they activate a response from an efficient immune system.
The body’s ability to recognize and destroy tumor cells is reduced when a state of immunodepression is present.
In spite of the reaction of our defense system, tumor cells can develop mechanisms through which they bypass the immune system’s control. After an initial phase, during which the immune response is able to fight and destroy the majority of tumor cells, surviving tumor cells mutate and become resistant to the immune system’s control. Usually, this is a long process which may take place over several years. Mutated tumor cells “cheat” the immune system, and since they can act virtually undisturbed, they spread uncontrollably and generate clinically detectable and diagnosable tumors.
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