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Could taking antibiotics increase the chances of bowel cancer?


    As part of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, Associate, Rebecca Callard, considers a recent study showing a possible link between long term antibiotic use and bowel cancer.

    By Rebecca Callard

Following my colleague’s recent post on how new tools can help to diagnose bowel cancer in patients at an earlier stage, in this blog I will be looking at a recent study which claims that taking antibiotics for a prolonged period can increase the chances of developing bowel cancer.

The findings of the study

The study, carried out in America, gathered heath and lifestyle information from 16,642 female nurses since 1976. Their paper appears in the gastroenterology journal ‘Gut’. It essentially showed that those women who had taken antibiotics for long periods when they were between 20-39 years of age were more likely to develop a bowel polyp later in their life.

During the relevant period the study showed women were 36% more likely to develop a growth when antibiotics were taken for more than 2 months between 20-39 years of age, increasing to 69% if taken during their forties and fifties. These figures are compared to non-users of antibiotics.  Whilst it must be acknowledged that polyps and growths can be entirely harmless and don’t necessarily go on to develop into cancer, the study has highlighted a marked increase in those who had increased antibiotic use.

However, the study only shows a snapshot. It does not reveal how many of the growths progressed to cancer and how those cases link to past antibiotic treatment, if at all.

What does this mean?

Leading bowel cancer charity, Bowel Cancer UK, have published their own comments on the study, stating the early findings from the research need to be investigated further and people should not stop taking antibiotics before further information is known. Antibiotics are obviously essential for treating some other health issues and if they are not taken when needed, this can lead to other conditions which may develop and/or deteriorate, and could present a far greater risk that any potential risk identified in this study.

Whilst the knowledge is useful, there can be many contributing factors to receiving a diagnosis of bowel cancer including family history and lifestyle and, as one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK, the Charity are eager to stress that everyone should be vigilant to symptoms that may indicate bowel cancer and avoid any delay in getting medical advice.

This study is particularly pertinent this month, as it is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Charities and organisations are campaigning to increase awareness of the condition and the need to seek early medical attention if you have any concerns or symptoms.

Our Experience

Our team, sadly, have experience of acting for those affected by a negligent delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We sincerely hope that Bowel Cancer Awareness Month helps to increase awareness and to prevent delays to ensure patients are diagnosed early and receive prompt and effective treatment thereafter.

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