Do Hyperactive Immune Systems Protect Against Cancer...or Does Cancer Suppress Immune Systems and thus Cause Allergies?

Thursday, November 15 2007

The Economist reports the "which came first, chicken-or-egg" findings of research covering 1,527 people in Scandinavia and southeast England with gliomas, a type of brain tumor and 3,309 otherwise similar individuals without brain tumors. The results: Allergy sufferers were 30% less likely to have glioma.

Are you an optimist? Then you would conclude that allergies protect against tumors.

Are you a pessimist? Your conclusion would be that tumors suppress the immune system (and thus allergic reactions).

Both conclusions are reasonable. I recall many of my elders cautioning, when I was growing up, that "things aren't always what they seem at first glance."

How would YOU design a study to resolve this puzzle?

Category: Enigmas, Tough Challenges
Filed under: Allergies, Cancer