Doctors are once again scratching their heads over the association between a set of the most popular of all drugs, antibiotics, and breast cancer. Following close on the heels of the damning reports from the Women’s Health Initiative study that proved a strong association between breast cancer and hormone therapy, this new study linking antibiotics with breast cancer should cause consternation among all women who use antibiotics either for long-term therapy or for frequent, recurrent infections. Women are prescribed “maintenance” antibiotic therapy for acne and recurrent bladder infections. These women take antibiotics for extended periods of time. Other women receive frequent antibiotics for sinus infections or bronchitis. And women with mitral valve prolapse receive antibiotics every time they have their teeth cleaned to prevent infections of the heart (a questionable practice that is not endorsed by the American Heart Association). All of this antibiotic use, it turns out, can be risky.
In a study of more than 2,000 women with breast cancer (compared to nearly 8,000 controls) the women who received antibiotics had an increased incidence of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer increased incrementally with the number of days of antibiotic use. The more antibiotics taken, the more breast cancer occurred. This association was true for different classes of antibiotics and the risk did not differ in women who used antibiotics for respiratory infections compared to women prescribed antibiotics for rosacea (an autoimmune disease). In other words, the underlying disease did not seem to alter the associated link between the antibiotics and cancer. The authors of this study did wonder whether the antibiotics caused the breast cancer or whether the underlying immune weakness that led to an increased need for antibiotics may have predisposed these women to breast cancer.
Whatever the underlying mechanism, several conclusions can be drawn from this study. First, stay away from antibiotics and you will reduce your risk of breast cancer. Second, pursue alternatives to antibiotics for infections. Other effective methods for treating infections include nutritional approaches, homeopathic treatment, and herbal medicines. Third, if you are prone to frequent infections, pursue treatments that will bolster the immune system and prevent future infections. Again, many methods can accomplish this. Seek out a qualified practitioner of classical homeopathy, a licensed acupuncturist who prescribes herbal treatments, a naturopathic physician, or a holistic doctor or nutritionist.
Velicer, CM, et al. Antibiotic use in relation to the risk of breast cancer. JAMA 2004 Feb 18;291(7):880-1
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