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Cancer & Your Immune System

Cancer & Your Immune System

Cancer and cancer treatments can have a negative impact on the immune system. 


Think of the immune system as an army made up of many different units that work together to protect the body. There are two main units that provide the first, and second lines of defense against "invaders” like viruses and bacteria that can make us sick. These two “units” are known as the innate and adaptive immune responses, the “fighting power” within each response is done by white blood cells (Gonzalez et al, 2018). 


Cancer can weaken the immune system by affecting areas of the body where white blood cells are produced and mature. Additionally, Cancer treatments can temporarily weaken the immune system as they cause a drop in the number of white blood cells produced. Cancer treatments that are more likely to weaken the immune system include (Gonzalez et al, 2018; Rolston 2017): 

  • chemotherapy 
  • targeted cancer drugs 
  • radiotherapy 
  • high dose of steroids 


Work with your doctor to follow the best plan to support your immune health during treatment. However, it is best to support general health as much as possible; fuel your body with nutritious foods, get rest, and move your body when you feel well.  


  1. Gonzalez H, Hagerling C, Werb Z. Roles of the immune system in cancer: from tumor initiation to metastatic progression. Genes Dev. 2018;32(19-20):1267-1284. doi:10.1101/gad.314617.118 
  2. Rolston KV. Infections in cancer patients with solid tumors: A review. Infectious disease and therapy. 2017; 6(1):69-83. 

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