German scientists say that efforts to bolster the body's own immune system could be the most effective way to fight cancer.
Scientists have long been trying to find drugs that kill cancer cells or block off their supply of oxygen and nutrients, but a new study suggests the body's own immune system could be the most potent weapon in the fight against cancer.
Increasingly, researchers are turning their attentions towards boosting the immune response so that our bodies are better equipped to defend against cancer - and a new study in the prestigious Nature journal shows they are right to do so.
A research team at the University Medical Centre Tubingen in Germany has shown that the immune system is capable of forcing cancerous cells into a state of permanent dormancy or 'senescence' so that tumours are no longer capable of spreading.
Researchers at the university say it may be possible to use immunotherapy to combat cancer without destroying any of the body's own healthy cells.
This is a major problem with chemotherapy and other conventional treatments and is one of the reasons why up to a third of people with cancer - and almost half of those with breast cancer - use some form of complementary therapy during their illness.
Although forcing cancer cells into a dormant state does not actually eradicate the disease from the patient's body, it could arrest its growth and prevent it from causing any problems during the person's lifetime.
Lead researcher Professor Dr Martin Rocken, from the university's department of dermatology, said that there have been "very important, partly brilliant achievements" in the understanding of tumour development and the field of cancer diagnostics over the past 50 or so years, with improvements in the treatment of many cancers.
"However, the main goal, i.e. the decisive victory on cancer, remained absent," he pointed out, and "doubts were raised about the strategy of the 'war on cancer' which exclusively focused on cancer destruction".
During their studies, the German researchers focused on a group of proteins called interferons - which are made and released by human cells in response to viruses, bacteria, parasites or tumour cells - and a separate protein called tumour necrosis factor (TNF), which regulates immune cells and can bring about cell death.
While researchers have previously tried to use these proteins to destroy cancer cells, the German team found that a combination of the two was capable of stopping tumour growth without actually killing the tumour cells.
When they tested this immunotherapeutic approach on laboratory animals, they found that it was far more effective than any therapy aiming to kill cancer cells and stopped the growth of tumours.
Professor Rocken believes scientists should adopt a new goal of prolonging patients' lives by developing new therapies that help the human body to force cancer cells into a state of prolonged dormancy, rather than attempting to wipe them out.
He claimed: "It is very likely that we can't win the 'war on cancer' by exclusive military means. Instead it will be an important milestone to restore the body's immune control of malignant tumours."
Of course, while immunotherapy may provide significant benefits over existing cancer treatments, this approach is still in its infancy.
For those seeking more immediate results, it may already be possible to bolster the immune system and help it control cancer by using a natural immunomodulator such as BioBran MGN-3.
This highly absorbable and completely non-toxic food supplement is manufactured using a process that breaks down rice bran using enzymes derived from shiitake mushrooms.
The process results in a compound that is particularly effective at maintaining a strong and healthy immune system, thanks to its unique blend of hemicellulose nutrients, short chain polysaccharides and hemicellulose compounds.
A wealth of research has been conducted into the effects of this immune complex on the body, indicating that it supports the white blood cells as they work to control invading microbes, as well as infected and abnormal cells.
While many people use BioBran MGN-3 to optimise their immune function after falling ill, a lower dose of the product is also available for those seeking to maintain a healthy immune system in preparedness for any future illnesses.