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Toxins in skin bacteria help lymphoma cells spread

More aggressive treatment of bacterial infections -- for which skin lymphoma patients are at higher risk -- could improve immune response to the cancer.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 6, 2016 at 1:03 PM

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Researchers found a skin infection more common in lymphoma patients aids the growth and spread of the disease, according to a new study.

Toxins from the staphylococcus bacteria send off signals that change the immune system, causing defensive CD4-T lymphocytes to destroy healthy cells, rather than cancer cells, aiding the disease, reported researchers at the University of Copenhagen.

Skin lymphomas are immune system cancers that start in the skin. They can be misidentified as eczema or other skin conditions, which researchers said is often why they are not caught until they are aggressive and life-threatening.

Less than 50 people per year are diagnosed with skin lymphoma in Denmark, where the study was conducted, and skin lymphomas made up about five percent of the 70,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosed in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society.

"We have gained important insight into the processes that activate cancer cells and make them grow," said Dr. Niels Ødum, a professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Copenhagen, in a press release. "Patients' frequent bacteria infections might not be a mere side effect of the disease -- on the contrary, toxins in the bacteria actually 'benefit' cancer cells. Our next step is examining whether combating infections can slow down the growth of cancer cells and thus stop the disease."

In the study, published in the journal Blood, researchers used malignant and non-malignant T-cells from donors to show the bacterial toxin changed the way immune CD4-T cells changed to fight healthy cells in the body and help the cancer.

Because lymphoma patients have more frequent infections, researchers said more aggressive treatment of the infections may counteract the effects bacterial toxins have on immune cells.

In addition to further study on how bacteria and their toxins make cancer worse, researchers said more must be done to understand which bacteria produce toxins and which patients' disease would be improved by treatment with antibiotics.

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