Allergic to Grass, Plants and Trees? Maybe Cancer Risk

Can the researchers just stop scaring us?  If you, like me are a woman and sniffle and snort and cough your way through the spring and fall with allergies to plants, grass and trees, you may be more at risk of blood cancers than those who don't.

According to, men are not at the same risk and scientists theorize it may be because of "a possible gender-specific role in chronic stimulation of the immune system that may lead to the development of hematologic cancers."

Woo.  A lot of words to say that allergies can make some of us more susceptible to certain cancers than others.

Researchers say the immune system’s potential role in cancer causation is a focus of intense scientific interest. “If your immune system is over-reactive, then you have problems; if it’s under-reactive, you’re going to have problems," the Web site quotes first author Mazyar Shadman, M.D., M.P.H., a senior fellow in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. "Increasing evidence indicates that dysregulation of the immune system, such as you find in allergic and autoimmune disorders, can affect survival of cells in developing tumors.”

Out of 79,000 study participants, 681 developed malignancies over the eight-year period they were followed, and allergies to airborne particles proved to be the most significant risk factor for a leukemia or lymphoma diagnosis.

Though these participants were more likely to be male, to have two or more first-degree relatives with a family history of leukemia or lymphoma, to be less active and rank their health status as low, researchers felt that hormones in women might confer greater risk.

“It is tempting to speculate that the additional effect of allergy may reach statistical significance in women because of their lower baseline risk for the development of hematologic malignancies compared to men,” the authors wrote. “However, hormonal effects on the immune system and interactions with carcinogenesis may offer an alternative biological explanation that will require further mechanical studies."

Allergy medications had nothing to do with the cancer link.  “It’s tough to eliminate allergy treatment as a confounder, because just about everyone with allergies is on some medication. But none of the allergy medications are known to cause cancer,” Shadman said.

So should you panic if you're allergic to grass or plants or trees?  Nah.  Just take your Zyrtek or Claritin or whatever and suffer through the season.  It always ends, eventually.


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