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Too Many Antibiotics Might Raise Colon Cancer Risk

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Here's another reason to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics: Long-term use of these medications could increase your risk of colon cancer, researchers say.

While antibiotics are often necessary in some cases and can save lives, it is important to be cautious with less severe conditions that may heal themselves. Above all to prevent bacteria from developing resistance but, as this study shows, also because antibiotics may increase the risk of future colon cancer," said study author Sophia Harlid, a cancer researcher from Umeå University in Sweden.

But, Harlid said, "There's no reason for panic."

Antibiotics are not a cause of alarm. Harlid said that there is a moderate increase in the risk and the relative risk for the patient is very low.

This link to colon cancer might be due to the impact that antibiotics have on the intestinal microbiome, or gut bacteria, according to the study.

They compared the data of over 40,000 colorectal cancer patients to a group that included 200,000 people who were healthy.

The Swedish Prescribed Drug Register also contained data on antibiotic usage.

They found that both women and men who took antibiotics for over six months had a 17% higher risk of developing cancer in the ascending colon -- the first part of the colon to be reached by food after the small intestine -- than those who didn't take antibiotics.

Five to 10 years later, colon cancer risk was evident. The study found that even though the highest dose of antibiotics was associated with the highest risk, the statistically significant rise in colon cancer risk after one course of antibiotics did not occur.

Antibiotics did not appear to be associated with an increase in cancer risk in the descending colon, or with a higher risk of rectal cancer for men. Researchers found that women who took antibiotics were slightly less likely to develop rectal cancer.

The study, published Sept. 1 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, confirms the results of an earlier smaller British study.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on colon cancer.

SOURCE: Umeå University, news release, Aug. 30, 2021