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Prolonged antibiotic treatments can lead to intestinal overgrowth
Prescribing antibiotics can lead to the development of multi-resistant bacterial strains. For this reason, medical professionals should only use antibiotics if it is really inevitable. This could also be crucial for another reason: Researchers have now found that long-term use of antibiotics leads to the development of small growths in the intestine, which can develop into cancer.
The researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that long-term antibiotic use can increase the risk of colon cancer. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal “Gut”.
What are intestinal polyps?
So-called intestinal polyps are small growths in our intestines. These growths are relatively common. In the British population alone, about 15 to 20 percent are affected by such growths, the scientists report. In most cases, intestinal polyps cause no symptoms and do not become cancerous, the authors continued. But there are also exceptions in which cancer develops from the growths due to a lack of treatment.
Doctors examine data from over 16,500 female subjects
For the current study, the experts analyzed the data from 16,600 nurses. They had participated in a long-standing US study, the so-called Nurses ’Health Study. The researchers found that taking antibiotics over a period of two months or longer increased the likelihood of certain types of intestinal polyps (adenomas) in participants aged 20 to 39 years compared to people who were not that age taking antibiotics in the long term.
Taking antibiotics changes the gut microbiome
Taking antibiotics fundamentally changes the so-called gut microbiome, in that the drug reduces the variety and number of bacteria. This also reduces resistance to dangerous bacteria. This could play a crucial role in the development of colorectal cancer, the scientists speculate.
Do not generally do without antibiotics
"While the data contribute to our growing knowledge of the importance of intestinal bacteria for our health, people should generally not stop taking antibiotics," emphasize the experts. Antibiotics remain crucial medicines for the treatment of bacterial infections. If used as prescribed and properly, these drugs can save people's lives, the authors add.
What factors increase the risk of colon cancer?
Eating a lot of red and processed meat can increase the risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer is also more common in people who are overweight or obese, the researchers say. Too little exercise leads to an increased risk. Consuming lots of alcohol or cigarettes can also lead to colon cancer. If there have been cases of colon cancer in your family history, you in turn could have an increased risk of colon cancer, the doctors explain.
Microbes in the gut affect human health
People who have been prescribed antibiotics by medical professionals should continue to take them and discuss any concerns with their doctor, the researchers explain. It is difficult to determine precise risks for individuals because the study is concerned with the precursors of cancer, not the cancer itself. However, the research shows how the microbes in the gut affect our health, the authors say.
More research is needed
If the results are confirmed by other studies and the use of antibiotics actually promotes the formation of tumors, the intake would have to be further restricted, the researchers explain. The use of antibiotics can have a lasting impact on health, the doctors add. (as)