3 myths about inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to infection or injury. But because of misinformation circulating in the media, there’s confusion about whether inflammation is healthy or harmful. We recently asked Stephanie Watowich, Ph.D., co-director of MD Anderson’s Center for Inflammation and Cancer, about common myths surrounding inflammation and what cancer patients should know. Here’s what she shared. Myth: Inflammation is one condition. Truth: The term inflammation actually refers to many different processes in the body. “When the medical community talks about inflammation, we aren’t just talking about one thing, one organ or even the same type of inflammation,” Watowich says. Inflammation is a local or systematic reaction from the cells in our immune system, but research has shown that there are different types of inflammation and that cells from other parts of the body are also involved. For example, the cells that line our blood vessels and the cells that line our skin also have inflammatory responses, so we know that it’s a more broad reaction that can involve cells throughout the body. Myth: Inflammation is bad. Truth: “Inflammation has a bad rap,” Watowich says. “But the truth is that we couldn’t live without it.” But inflammation isn’t strictly good or bad. It can be either, depending on how long the inflammation lasts. Small flare-ups of inflammation are good since it’s our immune system working to heal our bodies, but chronic inflammation can be a sign of something more concerning such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes or even cancer. “I encourage cancer patients to think of inflammation broadly,” Watowich says. “We have to understand inflammation in its context...