Taking antibiotics can cut cancer patients life expectancy in half

Oh boy – more news about the dark side of antibiotics: A new UK study found that patients undergoing cancer treatment survived for only half as long if they were also taking an antibiotic. And taking more than one antibiotic shortened survival time even more.

Researchers looked at 303 cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy and found that those who were taking an antibiotic survived for an average of 317 days, while those who had not taken antibiotics survived for 651. And those who had used antibiotics over a longer period or been given multiple antibiotics had an even lower survival span of just 193 days.

Immunotherapy uses drugs, “biologics,” to stimulate your body’s immune system, especially T cells, to fight cancer. And the greater the number and diversity of bacteria in the gut, the more T cells there are available to take on the disease. But a course of antibiotics can suppress bacteria levels for weeks thus wiping out gut bacteria essential for fighting cancer.

Antibiotics are given to people undergoing traditional chemotherapy because the treatment weakens the body, making it more vulnerable to bacterial infection.

Co-author of the yet-to-be-published study, Dr. Nadina Tinsley, told The Telegraph that using antibiotics while undergoing immunotherapy is “quite a big problem.” And she has a message for GPs who think, Oh my goodness it’s a cancer patient, they need antibiotics:

… the challenge is striking the right balance and making sure that we identify those patients that are at risk of having a serious infection, without giving antibiotics for less justified indications and maybe overusing antibiotics … What we’re saying is think really carefully about it.

The research was presented last week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, the world’s largest annual cancer conference.

Further reporting on how antibiotics adversely affect our gut microbiome can be found here, here, and here.


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