Can Prolonged Antibiotic Use Lead to Colon Cancer?

So, we are now learning that long-term antibiotic use—and a somewhat ignorant medical over-reliance on them—has contributed to the rise of superbugs. These are bacteria which are mostly immune to traditional antibiotics. Well, a new study says that long term antibiotic use might also contribute to other health factors later in life, too.

The new study says—published in the online journal, Gut—that long term antibiotic use can lead to a higher risk for abnormal growths in the colon and the rectum. These are mostly known as polyps or colorectal adenomas and, more importantly, can be a sign that cancer [of the bowel] will soon follow.

Now, previous research has, in fact, indicated that antibiotics exposure might be associated with this heightened risk but the studies, at the time, involved only short term monitoring periods. We did not have any long-term evidence of the trend that would strongly support the associations (and the appropriate cautions that would follow).

Now we do.

The latest study compared 121,700 women who took antibiotics for at least two weeks to discern that those who did so—at any point between age 20 and 60—were more likely to have such colon lesions once they reached their 60s. And it is these lesions, of course, that could easily lead to abnormal growths and cancer. This remarkable study began in 1976.

While this is concerning, of course, lead researcher Andrew Chan, of the Harvard University Medical School assures that the there is nothing to worry about on a broad scale. Chan asserts that this is merely a study and it does not necessarily provide any evidence to specific dangers in a real life setting; at least, not in terms of whether or not anyone should refrain from taking antibiotics just to avoid the risk for colon polyps.

He assures that the study simply highlights that the two appear to be linked. More explicitly, he says, “This suggests that alterations in the naturally occurring bacteria that live in one’s intestines caused by antibiotics might predispose individuals to colorectal cancer.”

With that in mind, too, it is important to note the dozens of studies looking at the impact factors like antibiotics have on intestinal bacteria and how changes to intestinal bacteria—because of these factors—can affect one’s health.