Thank Heavens for Childhood Sicknesses! Febrile Illness and its Role in Cancer Prevention

febrile disease reduces cancer risks
Photo Credit: Melissa Christianson (Click photo to visit her page.)

When my children get over fevers, I give myself three pats on the back: One for handling their illness responsibly by staying in good communication with our fabulous new family doctor, one for not freaking out too bad, and the third one for possibly taking care of their current and future health by staying away from fever reducing medicines.

See, febrile illnesses (or the sicknesses that are accompanied by a fever) have an inverse effect on cancer. According to  Dr. Ralph Moss’ essay on Caryle Hirshberg and  Brendan O’Regan’s book Spontaneous Remissions, you’ll find that while “there is no single cause for all the spontaneous cures of cancer, the majority of such patients experienced an acute infection just prior to the regression of their tumor.” Dr. Moss says, “This is a striking fact. These infections were usually accompanied by fevers.”  It lends some credence to the rather archaic practice of ancient societies. See, fevers were often used to treat cancers in ancient societies. The first known heat therapy for cancer treatment was made by an Egyptian priest/physician Imhotep in the 5th century BC. Imhotep infected tumors before surgically removing them. Hippocrates wrote, “Give me the power to produce fever and I will cure all diseases.” In more recent history, doctors noticed that surgeries to remove cancers have a better chance of working when the surgical wound gets infected causing a fever. Of course, blood letting was once common practice too, so we can’t just say what used to be practiced in antiquity is the way to go now.  And while, even today, spontaneous remissions repeatedly have been reported to be associated with febrile infections, the only reason I mention it is simply because I find it interesting… Well, and also because the treatment of cancer with hyperthermia is still being used today, just not in the US.

Photo Credit: Somer Johnson (Click photo to read her blog.)

For example, In Germany, St. George Hospital, University Clinic of Internal Medicine’s Oncology Department uses induced hyperthermia to treat cancer currently. (See their webpage about the treatment here, but click translate in your browser.) You can find many other German Oncologists that accept this as a valid treatment if you do a google search and are willing to click the translate button. I’m not telling you all of this to help you treat cancer. I’m not a doctor and I don’t want to talk too much about cancer itself, because this blog’s focus is more about mothering. I’m telling you this so that you can understand the possible relationship between cancer and fevers.

Fevers are good. Being sick is arguably not good, but I urge to consider this: What if it actually is in the best long term interest of your child to get sick with a fever from time to time and to allow that fever to just happen. We do already understand that allowing our children to just have their fever instead of trying desperately to lower it, generally speaking, increases a child’s chances of overcoming the illness faster and without complications from this past blog. Now, we have something else to consider as well.

benefits of letting a child have a fever
Photo Credit: Brittany Carter

This morning my son told me that if I really loved him, I would give him everything that he wanted. He says I don’t have to worry about what happens to him when he’s an adult. I told him a mother doesn’t stop caring about what happens to a child just because he’s grown up. I told him a good mother cares about her child’s future. I told him that sometimes things aren’t fun, but they are in his long-term best interest. Then… I thought about all the bookmarks I’ve saved in my browser on fevers and cancer and it hit me… Sometimes things that are in our long-term best interest aren’t fun.


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