A tumour or neoplasm is a group of cells whose growth has gone unchecked. When a tumour continues to grow and invades healthy tissue, it is called cancer. They spread to other parts of the body from the tumour and give rise to secondary tumour. This is known as metastasis. Tumour may be benign or malignant depending on its characteristics. Benign or non-cancerous tissues are capable of indefinite growth and do not invade other body parts. In the malignant tumour, the cells grow indefinitely, detach and migrate into healthy surrounding tissues.
In normal cells, cell growth and differentiation is highly controlled and regulated. But in cancer cells, there is breakdown of this regulatory mechanism. Normal cells show a property called contact inhibition, which inhibits uncontrolled growth. Cancer cells do not have this property. As a result, cancerous cells divide continuously giving rise to mass of tissues called tumours (Table 8.5).
When a cell undergoes malignant transformation, it acquires new surface antigen and may also lose some normal antigens. These antigens are present on the membranes of malignant cells and they induce an immune response. Both humoral and cellular responses can be observed in malignancy. Cancer cells can avoid immune detection as they are not foreign bodies but are abnormally functioning body cells. This makes them difficult to treat.
The concept of immunological surveillance postulates that the primary function of the immune system is to “seek and destroy” malignant cells that arise by somatic mutation. The efficiency of the surveillance mechanism reduces either as a result of ageing or due to congenital or acquired immunodeficiencies, leads to increased incidence of cancer. Thus, if immunological surveillance is effective, cancer should not occur. The development of tumour represents a lapse in surveillance.
Immunotherapy also called biological therapy uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory (monoclonal antibodies) to improve or to resist the immune system function. Different approaches have been attempted in the immunotherapy of cancer. Immunotherapy appears to be important in getting rid of the residual malignant cells after the gross tumour has been removed. The best results in the treatment of cancer is to follow an integrated approach to therapy, combining surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
The younger graduates in this field can find number of employment opportunities in Government as well as private hospitals. The scope of the immunology is immunotherapy, microbial immunology, clinical immunology, cellularimmunology,allergyandimmunology, translational immunology, transplantation immunology, neuro-inflammatory disorders, tumour immunology, vaccine immunology, inflammatory disorders, ocular immunology and inflammation.
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