Antibiotics linked to colon cancer in new study involving Queen’s University

Research from Queen’s University Belfast has shown that taking antibiotics could increase the risk of developing colon cancer by as much as half in the under-50s with older people also seeing a higher risk.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 12:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th January 2022, 1:07 pm

For the first time, while the numbers remain low, scientists showed antibiotic use was linked with an estimated 50% higher risk of colon cancer in people aged under 50, and an estimated 9% higher risk in those 50 and over.

Sarah Perrott, of the University of Aberdeen and co-first author of the new paper, said: “We found antibiotic exposure was associated with colon cancer among all age groups.

“This, along with multiple other dietary and lifestyle factors, may be contributing to increased cases of colon cancer among young people.”

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She added: “Antibiotic use is very common, and it is important to note that not everyone who uses antibiotics will get bowel cancer.”

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen, NHS Grampian and Queen’s University Belfast, looked at 40,000 people and compared antibiotic use and lifestyle factors of those who had cancer and those who didn’t.

While no relationship was found with rectal cancer, antibiotic use was found to be associated with the development of colon cancer.

Both colon and rectal cancer affect the large intestine.

The study did not determine a threshold dose, but the risk appeared to be the same after minimal exposure to antibiotics, said Miss Perrot.

According to the paper, which has been published in the British Journal of Cancer, the reasons behind the link are thought to be because of the impact of antibiotics on the bacteria within the gut microbiome, which can lead to altered bacterial activity and interfere with normal immune function.

This can lead to chronic inflammation and, theoretically, increase the risk of cancer.

Miss Perrott said antibiotics had a “detrimental impact on the gut microbiota” and they can lead to “permanent changes to the natural gut environment”.

“It is important to note that diet, lifestyle, stress, and so many different factors can affect gut health and antibiotic use is just one of those factors,” she added.

Scientists said that prescribing of antibiotics should be considered carefully and when there are probiotic supplements could be useful to counteract the negative effects of the drugs.

Alice Davies, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to say if antibiotics are definitely increasing people’s risk, but this gives us another piece of the puzzle.”

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