Lymphocyte Subsets in Defense Against New Pathogens in Patients with Cancer

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INTRODUCTION: Immunity in cancer patients is modified both by the cancer itself and by oncospecific treatments. Whether a patient's adaptive immunity is impaired depends on their levels of naive lymphocytes and other cell populations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer patients are at greater risk of progressing to severe forms of the disease and have higher mortality rates than individuals without cancer, particularly while they are receiving cancer-specific therapies. An individual's protection against infection, their response to vaccines, and even the tests that determine the humoral immune response to SARSCoV- 2, depend on lymphocyte populations, meriting their study. OBJECTIVE Estimate blood concentrations of lymphocytes involved in the immune response to new pathogens in cancer patients. METHODS: We carried out an analytical study of 218 cancer patients; 124 women and 94 men, 26-93 years of age, who were treated at the National Oncology and Radiobiology Institute in Havana, Cuba, March-June, 2020. Patients were divided into five groups: (1) those with controlled disease who were not undergoing cancer-specific treatment; (2) those undergoing debulking surgery; (3) patients undergoing chemotherapy; (4) patients undergoing radiation therapy and (5) patients currently battling infection. We evaluated the following peripheral blood lymphocyte subsets via flow cytometry: B lymphocytes (total, naive, transitional, memory, plasmablasts and plasma cells); T lymphocytes (total, helper, cytotoxic and their respective naive, activated, central memory and eff ector memory subsets); and total, secretory and cytotoxic natural killer cells and T natural killer cells. We also estimated neutrophil/lymphocyte ratios. Lymphocyte concentrations were associated with controlled disease and standard cancer therapy. For variables that did not fall within a normal distribution, ranges were set by medians and 2.5-97.5 percentiles. The two-tailed Mann-Whitney U test was used to measure the eff ect of sex and to compare lymphocyte populations. We calculated odds ratios to estimate lymphopenia risk. RESULTS: All cancer patients had lower values of naive helper and cytotoxic T lymphocyte populations, naive B lymphocytes, and natural killer cells than normal reference medians. Naive helper T cells were the most aff ected subpopulation. Memory B cells, plasmablasts, plasma cells, activated T helper cells, and cytotoxic central memory T cells were increased. Patients undergoing treatment had lower levels of naive lymphocytes than untreated patients, particularly during radiation therapy. The risk of B lymphopenia was higher in patients in treatment. The odds ratio for B lymphopenia was 8.0 in patients who underwent surgery, 12.9 in those undergoing chemotherapy, and 13.9 in patients in radiotherapy. CONCLUSIONS: Cancer and conventional cancer therapies significantly aff ect peripheral blood B lymphocyte levels, particularly transitional T helper lymphocytes, reducing the immune system's ability to trigger primary immune responses against new antigens.




Del Carmen Arango-Prado, M., Villegas-Valverde, C. A., Torres-López, G., Soto-Pardeiro, P., Suárez-Reyes, A., Faxas-García, M. E., … Curbelo-Alfonso, L. (2022). Lymphocyte Subsets in Defense Against New Pathogens in Patients with Cancer. MEDICC Review, 24(2), 26–34.

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