Magazine article Science News

Pill Puzzle: Do Antibiotics Increase Breast Cancer Risk?

Magazine article Science News

Pill Puzzle: Do Antibiotics Increase Breast Cancer Risk?

Article excerpt

After poring over the pharmacy records of more than 10,000 women, researchers have identified a disturbing correlation: Women in the study who had breast cancer tended to have a history of heavier antibiotic use than cancerfree women. Although this study raises the concern that taking microbe-killing drugs increases a woman's risk of breast cancer, the investigators stress that there may be more plausible explanations for the unexpected finding.

"People who are on antibiotics should remain on them if they have a bacterial infection," says Stephen H. Taplin of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. "This study is hot saying there's a causal relationship between antibiotics and breast cancer."

The research project originated a few years ago when Taplin was at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was working with a graduate student, Christine M. Velicer. She was struck by the result of an epidemiological study indicating that Finnish women who had taken antibiotics for urinary tract infections seemed to have an increased risk of breast cancer. That study was limited, however, because it depended on each woman's memory of her antibiotic use, not on medical records.

Working with investigators at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the healthcare provider Group Health Cooperative, both in Seattle, Velicer began a doctoral-dissertation project in which she used nearly 2 decades of pharmacy records to compare the antibiotic use of 2,266 women with breast cancer to that of 7,953 randomly selected women. …

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