Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. Until now, the most accepted risk factors for this type of cancer were low intake of vegetables and fruits, lack of physical activity, being overweight, and alcohol consumption.
According to a new research published in the journal Gut, a new risk factor has emerged: antibiotics. The study suggests that people who take antibiotics for a long period of time are more likely to develop growths in the bowels which could turn malignant increasing the risk of cancer.
Antibiotics have already been linked over recent years to a range of predicaments including irritable bowel disease and obesity. They deteriorate the intestinal bacteria ecosystem and decrease the number and type of bacteria necessary to healthy gut, possibly increasing the risk of tumor development. That’s why taking probiotics is recommended when taking antibiotics.
Polyps in the gut are growths in the lining of bowels that are relatively common. They can affect around 20% of the population. These small growths are innocuous and don’t trigger any symptoms but can possibly turn cancerous if not treated. Antibiotics has been found to increase the apparition of a certain type of polyps — adenomas — increasing simultaneously the risk of cancer.
In this study, researchers analyzed the data of 122,000 nurses, collected since 1976 by the Nurses Health Study. These women were between the age of 30 and 55 at this time. They found that nurses who have taken antibiotics for more than two months were more likely to be diagnosed with adenomas in later life, compared to the ones who had not taken antibiotics for a long period of time.
If the findings are confirmed by other studies, the use of long-term antibiotic treatments could be put into question. But it underlines the fact that anything that disturbs our gut bacteria, such as changes in diet, inflammation or antibiotic use, could potentially have an impact on our health.
Antibiotic residues are everywhere including non-organic food or tap water. Because cattle are routinely treated with antibiotics to prevent, treat, or control disease and pharmaceutical residues originating in sewage effluent end up in our tap water, we are exposed daily to antibiotic residues. The accumulative effect cannot be ignored.
It is obvious that certain medical conditions require antibiotics and that the risks of not taking them could be greater than the possible increased risk of cancer. But this research and the future ones on the subject could influence doctors to be more frugal in prescribing antibiotics, raise awareness about their use in cattle and their presence in water.