Antibiotics HALVE life expectancy of cancer sufferers

NHS medics reveal in world first at US conference

Antibiotics may significantly shorten the lives of cancer patients receiving immunotherapy treatment, a UK study has shown.

Taking the pills to treat minor infections could be unnecessarily affecting length of survival as GPs and oncologists were urged to prescribe with caution.

The researchers, from the NHS Christie Hospital in Manchester, said a balance must be struck between preventing serious infection in cancer patients and avoiding overuse of antibiotics.

The study, presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago, is thought to be the largest and ‘most robust’ of its kind.

Researchers analysed data from 303 patients with skin cancer, renal and lung cancer, who were treated with immunotherapy drugs’ at Christie NHS Foundation Trust between 2015 and 2017.

Survival rates among patients who took antibiotics – at any point from two weeks before their immunotherapy started to six weeks after the treatment finished – were compared with patients who did not take any.

The antibiotic group lived for around 317 days while those who had not taken them survived for 651 days, the study found.

Patients who had used antibiotics over a longer period or been prescribed multiple courses lived for just 193 days.

Lead author Nadina Tinsley, clinical research fellow, said: ‘Clearly antibiotics are a really important part of patient management and we need to treat serious infections and prevent life threatening infection, even death.

‘But the challenge is striking the right balance between making sure that we identify those patients that are at risk of having a serious infection, without giving antibiotics for less justified indications and maybe overusing antibiotics.’

Co-author Matthew Krebs, consultant in experimental cancer medicine at the Christie Hospital, added: ‘If someone is genuinely got a need, then of course they should receive antibiotics.

Previous studies have suggested having more bacteria in the gut can improve how a patient responds to treatment.

It can take a number of weeks for bacteria to recover in the gut following a course of antibiotics.

The researchers said the effect of the pills in immunotherapy patients ‘is potentially a big issue’, as the treatment becomes more widely used as part of routine NHS care.

A ‘large proportion’ of cancer patients are likely to be prescribed antibiotics for an infection at some point, Ms Tinsley said.

Dr Sumanta Pal, oncologist and ASCO expert, said the British study was the ‘most robust research to date’ in the area.

‘It ties into the theme of really not using antibiotics for frivolous or non-indicated uses,’ he said.

‘Perhaps other healthcare providers, beyond the oncologist, should engage the oncologist before prescribing to make sure they’re truly indicated.’

Further research is needed to examine whether the effect of antibiotics on survival rates is limited to immunotherapy treatments, the authors said.

Written by Bridie Pearson-Jones for The Daily Mail ~ June 3, 2018.

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