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Health - Reuters
Antibiotic Use Linked with Breast Cancer Risk
Reuters
2 hours, 34 minutes ago
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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The use of antibiotics appears to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and fatal breast cancer, according to the results of a new study reported in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (news - web sites).

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However, the investigators add that although a relationship has been found, their findings do not prove that antibiotic use is the cause of breast cancer in these women and they note that other factors may be involved.

Earlier reports have suggested a link between antibiotics and increased cancer risk, lead author Dr. Christine M. Velicer of the University of Washington, Seattle and colleagues note.

The effects of these drugs on the microorganisms normally found in the intestines and the way estrogen is processed, as well as their effects on the immune system and on inflammation, have been suggested as possible ways antibiotics may influence the development of cancer.

To further investigate a possible relationship, Velicer's group evaluated data collected for 2266 women with primary, invasive breast cancer between 1993 and 2001, and 7953 randomly selected women without breast cancer who were enrolled in the same health plan.

"We found that increasing cumulative days of antibiotic use and increasing cumulative number of antibiotic prescriptions were associated with increased risk of incident breast cancer, after controlling for age and length of enrollment," they report.

When compared with women with no history of antibiotic use, women with cumulative antibiotic use for 1 to 500 days had a 2.5-fold increase risk of breast cancer. "Increasing cumulative days of antibiotic use was also associated with death due to breast cancer, controlling for age, length of enrollment, and ever use of postmenopausal hormones," they write.

The investigators stress, however, that "it cannot be determined from this study whether antibiotic use is causally related to breast cancer, or whether indication for use, overall weakened immune function, or other factors are pertinent underlying exposures."

"This observation is potentially worrisome in that antibiotic exposure is common and sometimes nonessential," Drs. Roberta B. Ness and Jane A. Cauley of the University of Pittsburgh comment in an accompanying editorial. "Thus, if real, the risk of breast cancer attributable to the use of antibiotics could be large and partially preventable."

The study provides more questions than answers, they add.

Both the authors and editorialists agree that the clinical implications of the study are unclear and than more studies are needed to explore the relationship between antibiotic use and cancer risk.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, February 18, 2004.


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Next Story: Physical Fitness May Protect Aging Brain (Reuters)

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