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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003 Aug 6;95(15):1165-8.

T-cell homeostasis in breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue.

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Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, CA 90095-7076, USA.


Approximately 30% of women successfully treated for breast cancer suffer persistent fatigue of unknown origin. Recent studies linking inflammatory processes to central nervous system-mediated fatigue led us to examine cellular immune system status in 20 fatigued breast cancer survivors and 19 matched non-fatigued breast cancer survivors. Fatigued survivors, compared with non-fatigued survivors, had statistically significantly increased numbers of circulating T lymphocytes (mean 31% increase, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 6% to 56%; P =.015 by two-sided analysis of variance [ANOVA]), with pronounced elevation in the numbers of CD4+ T lymphocytes (mean 41% increase, 95% CI = 15% to 68%; P =.003 by two-sided ANOVA) and CD56+ effector T lymphocytes (mean 52% increase, 95% CI = 4% to 99%; P =.027 by two-sided ANOVA). These changes were independent of patient demographic and treatment characteristics. Absolute numbers of B cells, natural killer cells, granulocytes, and monocytes were not altered. The increased numbers of circulating T cells correlated with elevations in the level of serum interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (for CD3+ cells, r =.56 and P =.001; for CD3+/CD4+ cells, r =.68 and P<.001, by Spearman rank correlation). Results of this study suggest that persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors might be associated with a chronic inflammatory process involving the T-cell compartment. These results require confirmation in a larger study that is specifically designed to address this hypothesis.

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