Suppose you’ve ever gone to the doctor’s office with a persistent cold, the flu, or a myriad of other common illnesses affecting your life. In that case, you’re probably familiar with antibiotic prescriptions. To be fair, they get the job done! They have been widely used in Western medicine for decades to treat and heal illnesses caused by bacterial infections. However, there are some downsides to excessive antibiotic use.
The whole point of antibiotics is to kill illness-causing bacteria growing in your body. But don’t forget that there are trillions of good bacteria growing in your microbiome, whose absence makes human life impossible! Unfortunately, antibiotic overuse has some serious adverse effects: one of the most pressing ones is the possible increased risk of colorectal cancer. Commonly known as colon cancer, this disease is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women. New studies show that there could be a connection between antibiotic use and an increase in your risk of colon cancer.
The Uses and Misuses of Antibiotics
Since ancient times, civilizations have been using forms of antibiotics to heal and treat infections. Although these people did not yet understand what bacteria was or even what the cause of some illnesses was, civilizations like the ancient Egyptians developed ways to heal through primitive antibiotic use. In the 1920s, scientists discovered penicillin, the first mass-produced antibiotic, which saved countless lives. However, despite the amazing things that the study and use of antibiotics have done for humans, this doesn’t mean there aren’t any downsides or dangers.
Antibiotics can’t choose between what we like to call “good” and “bad” bacteria. So when you’re taking antibiotics for a common bacterial infection, the “good” bacteria in your microbiome are affected just like that “bad” bacteria causing the sickness. This feature of antibiotics can have some pretty severe drawbacks.
The prevalent use of antibiotics in the current medical world has led to many unintended consequences affecting the body’s “good” bacteria in the microbiome. Increasing studies show that there may be a link between this attack on the microbiome and the start or progression of colorectal cancer. For that reason, many researchers are beginning to warn against the overuse of antibiotics.
Excessive Use of Antibiotics
Although antibiotics can be beneficial and have done a lot of good throughout history, there can be too much of a good thing. Both the rates of antibiotic use and colon cancer diagnoses have skyrocketed across the globe since the 1980s. The coexistence of these rates caused some researchers and medical professionals to begin questioning whether the overconsumption of antibiotics was causing the increased rate of cancer.
Since then, researchers have conducted numerous studies to see whether they could figure out the link here and hopefully begin cautioning people against the overuse of antibiotics. Unfortunately, despite the findings of many studies showing that there does seem to be a clear link, prescriptions for antibiotics continue to be one of the first reactions to bacterial infections. Therefore, it is essential to know how these medications could impact your risk of cancer.
Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer
Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It is also the third most common cancer diagnosis in America. The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2017 alone, there were 136,830 people diagnosed with the disease and 50,310 deaths. Based on recent research, these chilling numbers are linked with antibiotic overuse.
One study’s findings suggested that antibiotic use potentially played a direct role in tumor growths in the colon. This same study also noted that these findings were especially true of people younger than 50 years old. Such conclusions raise even bigger red flags since most cancers are found in older patients. Additionally, another relevant study found that the link between antibiotics and colon cancer was predominantly in a “dose-dependent fashion.” This means that the number of antibiotics and even the specific kind of antibiotics you take may impact your increased risk.
Preventative Healthcare is the Best Healthcare
Other, more commonly known risk factors are also associated with colon cancer, such as tobacco use, obesity, and genetic disposition. However, especially with the increased use of antibiotics in America since the 1980s, awareness of the link between antibiotics use and an increased risk of colon cancer is helpful for prevention. Knowing that this link affects younger people more often is also an important thing to note. Medical providers are beginning to push for colon cancer screening among younger people to help with prevention. As always: the best kind of healthcare is preventative healthcare.
Our Top Doctor Magazine hopes you will take this newfound knowledge of the risk factors of antibiotics and make choices that are best suited for you and your healthcare journey. Asking your doctor for early screening for colon cancer or alternative options to antibiotics when prescribed are great places to get started!