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Antibiotic Use Could Influence Polyp Development

Rachel Morrell

colon polyp

They come in every flavor imaginable. Grape, cherry, strawberry, orange, and even bubble gum! I’m not talking about lollipops or Jolly Ranchers. I’m talking about antibiotics.

If there is one statement we can all agree on, it’s that most medicine tastes pretty bad. From cough syrups and decongestants to liquid allergy medications, there’s just not much out there that’s palatable  But if you want me to take a liquid antibiotic, I’m ok with that!

It seems that most other people don’t mind the taste of chalky bubble gum flavored liquid either. Several studies show that there has been a steady rise of general antibiotic prescriptions. In the past 10 years, prescriptions have increased by 36 percent.  

Let’s explore this a little further. According to a study cited in the Washington Post, almost one-third of antibiotics that are prescribed in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and clinics are not needed. This translates to 47 million unnecessary prescriptions distributed each year for viral conditions that do not respond to antibiotics. Some of these conditions include colds, sore throats, bronchitis, and flu.

Researchers now are suggesting that the overuse of antibiotics could pose a threat to your health in a very tangible way; it could increase your risk of colon cancer. The medical journal Gut published a study that found that long-term use of antibiotics significantly increased the chances of polyp formation, which could develop into colon cancer. The data for the study was obtained from the Nurses Health Study, which began in 1976. Researchers monitored the health of 120,000 nurses between the ages of 30 and 55. Between 2004 and 2010, 1,194 abnormal growths in the colon and rectum were diagnosed. The nurses who took antibiotics for two or more months between the ages of 20 and 39 were 36 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an adenoma or polyp compared to nurses who had not taken antibiotics for an extended period in their 20s and 30s.

As the women aged, the risk increased significantly. Women who had taken antibiotics for two or more months during their 40s and 50s were 69 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an adenoma. If antibiotics were taken for 15 days or more between the ages of 20 and 39 and between the ages of 40 and 59, they were 73 percent more likely to develop an adenoma.

Most of us have had the common experience of developing diarrhea after taking an antibiotic. Researchers theorize that antibiotics kill some of the normal bacteria in the gut, which allows for abnormal bacteria to grow and thrive. Australian bowel cancer expert, Associate Professor Graham Newstead, head of the colorectal unit at the Prince of Wales private hospital and director of Bowel Cancer Australia, says that the theory has some merit. He said the research had “credence,” but the study did not look at the “effect of antibiotics on the colon and caution must be taken.”

Newstead’s advice is that antibiotics should be taken responsibly and only when necessary. “It does seem to indicate that people who have too many antibiotics might be at more risk of getting polyps than people who have less of them,” Newstead said. There is an undeniable link between antibiotics and polyps, and Newstead reminds us, “… not all polyps turn to cancer but the cancer comes from the polyps. If you have more polyps or tendency to get polyps then maybe you are slightly more at risk of getting cancer.”

If you have taken antibiotics frequently, talk to your doctor. He or she will advise you on when you should be screened for colon cancer and if you are at an elevated risk. Colon cancer is preventable with routine screening colonoscopies, so ask about getting screened today (Source: The Guardian).


Related Articles:

NSAIDs Could Help Prevent Polyp Recurrence
Know the Facts About Colon Polyps and Their Role in Colon Cancer

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