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BSI response to study linking antibiotic use to development of bowel cancer precursor

The microbiome5 April 2017

A paper published today in the journal Gut looks at whether antibiotic use is linked to a heightened risk of developing abnormal growths in the colon or rectum, which generally precede the development of bowel cancer. The study reports that people who had a history of long-term use of antibiotics between the ages of 20 to 39 were more likely to develop these bowel cancer precursors when older.  The authors hypothesise that this may be due to the effect of antibiotics on the gut bacteria (or microbiome). In response, the BSI has released the following statement:

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, British Society for Immunology spokesperson, and Senior Lecturer in Immunology, University of Manchester, said:

“There is increasing evidence that our microbiota are important in regulating our immune responses and many aspects of our normal functions, including digesting food and producing essential metabolites and vitamins. Thus, anything that disturbs our gut bacteria, such as changes in diet, inflammation or antibiotic use, may have an impact on our health. This study has tried to control for factors such as diet between the antibiotic use and non-antibiotic use groups, which is good. However, it is not clear whether the subsequent findings were impacted by any factors within each group, as the study didn’t investigate whether diet within the antibiotic use group was a significant factor in determining who went on to develop these pre-cancerous lesions. Furthermore, the study does not consider whether there is impact on our microbiota from antibiotic usage in our food, as many farm animal are given antibiotics routinely when reared.

“This study’s findings imply that any risk is very slight and also quite variable. Whilst the data adds to our growing knowledge of the importance of the gut bacteria to our health, I would be concerned about advising people to avoid using antibiotics. Antibiotics are crucial medicines for treating bacterial infections and, if prescribed and used appropriately, can be life-saving.”

This quote was included in the BBC News article on this story. 

The full study that this comment is in response to can be found at: Cao et al. 2017 Gut doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313413