Chemotherapy is a form of treatment for various cancers. Cancer is due to the rapid proliferation of abnormal cells in the body, and chemotherapy involves the use of one or more drugs used to kill rapidly proliferating cells. Chemotherapeutic drugs also have a role in treatment of autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Chemotherapy was first discovered during World War I when it was discovered that the mustard gas used in chemical warfare also led to suppression of blood cell production. The drug was studied further after World War I and then injected intravenously in soldiers who had lymphoma, an immune cell tumor. Since this time, research on chemotherapeutic drugs has progressed in the U.S. and around the world.
Although chemotherapy is effective in destroying cancer cells, it also destroys normal, healthy cells, particularly those cells that rapidly proliferate. For example, hair cells rapidly proliferate, which is one of the reasons why persons undergoing chemotherapy become bald. The chemotherapeutic drugs target the rapidly dividing hair cells. Another quickly proliferating cell affected during chemotherapy is the white blood cell. Without white blood cells, the person undergoing chemotherapy is susceptible to serious, recurrent bacterial or viral infection.
Studies have been performed to determine whether agents such as thymus extract can lead to prevention of infection in persons on chemotherapy. It is also thought that this bovine-derived thymus extract can help fight cancer by suppressing tumor formation. The thymus gland is an organ that is important for educating T cells. Babies are born with a thymus gland, but by adulthood, the thymus atrophies and is replaced with fat. The thymus extract used for therapy is obtained from young calves. Studies performed have not shown increased long-term survival in persons with cancer, who take the extract. However, thymus extract has been shown to increase cytotoxic activity, improve immunological components, restore lymphocyte function, and activate natural killer cells in vitro.