WARNING: Antibiotics Cause Cancer!
CNN February 16, 2004
© 2004 The
Washington Post Company February 18, 2004 - By Rob
Journal of the American
Medical Association, March 3, 2004
Updated: 1:09 p.m. ET Feb. 18, 2004
Antibiotic use is associated with
an increased risk for breast cancer, a new study has found, raising the possibility that women who take the widely used medicines
are prone to one of the most feared malignancies.
The first-of-its-kind study of
more than 10,000 women in Washington state concluded that those who used the most antibiotics had double the chances of
developing breast cancer, that the association was consistent for all forms of antibiotics and that the risk
went up with the number of prescriptions, a powerful indication that the link was real.
The consistency of the findings
in a study with such careful methodology could indicate that antibiotic use is an important, previously unrecognized risk
factor for breast cancer, experts said.
Antibiotics could increase the
risk for breast cancer by, for example, affecting bacteria in the digestive system in ways that interfere with the way the
body uses foods that protect against cancer, experts said. Another possibility is that antibiotics increase the risk by negatively
affecting the immune system.
Until the results are sorted out,
experts said, the findings provide YET ANOTHER REASON for doctors to more judiciously prescribe antibiotics, which are OFTEN
Link first proposed in 1981!
The researchers tried to find other explanations for the association,
such as the possibility that breast cancer is more likely to be diagnosed in women who take antibiotics because they see doctors
more often. But THE ASSOCIATION REMAINED EVEN AFTER THEY EXCLUDED THAT AND THE OTHER MOST LIKELY POSSIBILITIES.
Scientists first proposed
that antibiotics may increase the risk for breast cancer in 1981, but the only other study to examine the question was
in Finland in 2000. THAT STUDY ALSO FOUND AN ASSOCIATION, but it was not as well designed, prompting the new
"Antibiotics are used extensively
in this country and in many parts of the world. The possible association between breast cancer and antibiotic use was important
to examine," said Christine M. Velicer, an epidemiologist with Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies who was
the lead author of the study.
Breast cancer strikes more
than 211,000 women each year in the United States and kills more than 40,000, making it the leading cause of cancer and
the second leading cancer killer among women.
Velicer, Taplin and their colleagues
examined computerized pharmacy and cancer screening records of 2,266 women in the Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle area
health plan, who developed breast cancer, and 7,953 similar women who did not.
Women who had more than 25 individual
prescriptions for antibiotics over an average period of 17 years HAD TWICE (200%)THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER as
those who had taken no antibiotics. The risk was lower for women who took fewer antibiotics, but even those who had between
one and 25 prescriptions were about 50 PERCENT MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP BREAST CANCER, the researchers found.
"It's as strong as any of the risk factors that we know," said Dr. Roberta Ness of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate
School of Public Health, who is author of an editorial accompanying the study.
"To put it into perspective, the risk for developing breast cancer from hormone replacement use is about a 30 [percent]
to 40 percent increase in risk. And here we're talking about a doubling in risk of those women who are using chronic antibiotics."
"It was surprising for me that
there was an association," Velicer said. "The overall robustness and the consistency across a number of common antibiotics
was really notable."
THE RESEARCHERS TRIED
TO EXPLAIN THE RESULTS BY LOOKING AT OTHER KNOWN RISK FACTORS, SUCH AS A FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER AND HORMONE USE.
BUT NONE COULD. They also did an analysis comparing women who were taking large amounts of antibiotics because
of a skin condition associated with a hormonal imbalance with those taking antibiotics because of respiratory infections to
see if the real cause might be the hormonal imbalance. THAT, TOO, FAILED TO EXPLAIN THE FINDINGS, THOUGH IT COULD NOT COMPLETELY
RULE IT OUT.
Jeanne Calle, the society's director of analytical epidemiology, called the study important because "it appears to
be the first major work to describe a possible association between antibiotic use and the increased risk of cancer."
Does this make you GREEN