This article reviews the role of the vagus nerve in tumor modulation and cancer prognosis. We present a systematic review of 12 epidemiological studies examining the relationship between heart rate variability, the main vagus nerve index, and prognosis in cancer patients (survival and tumor markers). These studies show that initially high vagal nerve activity predicts better cancer prognosis, and, in some studies, independent of confounders such as cancer stage and treatments. Since the design of the epidemiological studies is correlational, any causal relationship between heart rate variability and cancer prognosis cannot be inferred. However, various semi-experimental cohort studies in humans and experimental studies in animals have examined this causal relationship. The second part of this paper presents a comprehensive review including human and animal cohort and experimental studies showing that vagotomy accelerates tumor growth, while vagal nerve activation improves cancer prognosis. Based on all reviewed studies, it is concluded that the evidence supports a protective role of the vagus nerve in cancer and specifically in the metastatic stage.
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© 2018 Marijke De Couck et al.
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