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Controlling immune response 'could ease dying'

patient receiving intravenous drugs Image copyright Thinkstock

Controlling the immune response of people dying from cancer might help save them from pain, fatigue and loss of appetite, according to researchers.

Experts hope by using existing drugs to control symptoms, people in their last few weeks of life can have a more comfortable time before they die.

Edinburgh University worked with the European Palliative Care Research Centre.

They studied the progression of cancer in more than 2,500 patients in Europe.

They used blood tests to assess inflammation levels in patients with many different types of cancer, including lung, breast, and bowel cancer.

Reduce inflammation

They found a person's level of inflammation appeared to have a direct effect on the way they felt - causing pain, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea.

The researchers believe this may be the first time such symptoms have been shown to develop as a result of the body's immune response to cancer, and not simply as a consequence of tumours spreading.

Lead researcher Dr Barry Laird, of the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre at Edinburgh University, said: "This study challenges the assumption that certain symptoms are an inevitable consequence of advanced cancer, and there is nothing doctors can do to make patients feel better.

"If we can understand what causes symptoms such as pain, fatigue and nausea, we can begin to tackle them.

"We already have drugs that target and reduce inflammation, so using these drugs specifically to treat symptoms may make a real difference to people living with cancer."

He said clinical trials were now under way to test this.

The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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