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Antibiotics linked to breast cancer

HELSINKI, FINLAND. Recent research has shown that a low body level of the lignan enterolactone is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. It is also known that the enterolactone level in body fluids is strongly reduced by common antibiotics. Researchers at the Finnish National Public Health Institute pondered these findings and decided to investigate if there is a connection between the use of antibiotics and the development of breast cancer. They began their study during the period 1973-77 when 9461 cancer-free women between the ages of 19 and 89 years underwent a thorough medical examination (including urine analysis for bacteriuria) as part of the Finnish Mobile Clinic Health Examination Survey. The women were asked about their history of urinary tract infections and the use of antibiotics to treat these infections. At the final follow-up in 1991 157 of the women had developed breast cancer.

The researchers found that women under 50 years of age (at the start of the study) who had used antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections had a 93 per cent excess risk of developing breast cancer when followed-up for more than 10 years. The risk was greatest among younger women and lowest among women aged 60 years or more at entry to the study. It was also clear that urinary tract infections as such were not associated with an excess breast cancer risk; it was only when treated with antibiotics that a strong correlation showed up. The study also confirmed already known risk factors for breast cancer such as age, higher level of education, alcohol consumption, none or only a few childbirths, living in an urban or industrial area, and being lean and tall. The correlation between antibiotics treatment and breast cancer held true even when adjusted for these factors. The researchers conclude that there may be a correlation between breast cancer and the use of antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections at a premenopausal age. They suggest that this conclusion is biologically plausible, but recommend further large- scale studies to confirm it.
Knekt, P., et al. Does antibacterial treatment for urinary tract infection contribute to the risk of breast cancer? British Journal of Cancer, Vol. 82, No. 5, March 2000, pp. 1107-10

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