The T-cell subsets of 129 patients with cancer were counted before and after radiation therapy. The cells were labeled with monoclonal antibodies that were specific for each type of T cell. Significant changes after therapy were decreases in the proportion of T-helper/inducer cells, pan-T cells, and in the ratio of T-helper/inducer to T-suppressor/cytotoxic cells. There was an increase in the percentage of T-suppressor/cytotoxic cells. When the site of the primary cancer was considered, genitourinary cancer and cancer of the head and neck both showed a decreased percentage of T-helper/inducer cells and a reduced ratio of T-helper/inducer to T-suppressor/cytotoxic cells. The percentage of pan-T cells in head and neck cancer and the ratio of T-helper/inducer to T-suppressor/cytotoxic cells in breast cancer were decreased. The percentage of T-helper cells was particularly decreased by radiation therapy in advanced stages of cancer, in higher grade tumors, and in larger tumors. The absolute numbers of various T-cell subsets were decreased in all groups.
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