Study Links Cancer, Antibiotics
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 more likely to develop the disease.
The study of more than 10,000 Washington state women 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 increased with the number of prescriptions.
A variety of experts quickly cautioned, however, that the findings should not stop women from taking the often lifesaving drugs when they need them to treat infections. There could be other explanations for the association, and much more research is needed before scientists understand what the surprising results mean, they said.
“This is not saying that women should stop taking antibiotics. Women should take antibiotics for infections,” said Stephen Taplin, a senior scientist at the National Cancer Institute who helped conduct the study. “We need to follow up and find out if this is a real association.”
Nevertheless, the study was so well designed and the findings so striking that it could be that antibiotic use is an important, previously unrecognized risk factor for breast cancer, experts said.
The results, which will appear in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Assn., were released Monday. Researchers said the findings provide another reason for doctors to more judiciously prescribe antibiotics, which are often used unnecessarily.