Immunocompetence and Malignancy

  • Cornelis J. M. Melief
  • Robert S. Schwartz
Part of the Cancer, A Comprehensive Treatise book series (C)


In June of 1908, Paul Ehrlich, the founder of immunology, lectured at the University of Amsterdam on the subject of cancer. His remarks included the following: “the understanding of natural immunity really represents the key to carcinoma.... I have acquired the firm conviction that natural immunity does not depend on the presence of anti-microbial materials, but rather, it depends on purely cellular activities. I am certain that, in the enormously complicated course of fetal and post-fetal development, aberrant cells become unusually common. Fortunately, in the majority of people, they remain completely latent thanks to the organism’s positive mechanisms. If such mechanisms did not exist, one might expect carcinomas to have an enormous frequency. These cells may live in a latent state for 20, 30 or 40 years before changing to a significant tumor. This means, in light of my theory, that there has been a diminution of some vital cell activity [which] allows the rapid, parasitic growth of certain cells” (Ehrlich, 1957).*


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cornelis J. M. Melief
    • 1
  • Robert S. Schwartz
    • 1
  1. 1.Hematology Service, New England Medical Center Hospital, and the Department of MedicineTufts University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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