Does Antibiotic Use Cause Breast Cancer?

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When Are Antibiotics Necessary?

Coincidentally, the results of this study come at a time when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to make the public more aware of the dangers of overusing antibiotics, mainly through its National Campaign for Appropriate Antibiotic Use.

Antibiotics are regularly prescribed for conditions such as respiratory and ear infections, acne, and urinary tract infections. While such uses are appropriate, these medications are more commonly being misused -- to treat a mild infection that would likely clear up on its own, symptoms that are not infection-related, or conditions that are caused by viruses, such as a cold or flu. These viral conditions are not cured with antibiotics.

As more and more patients ask for antibiotics and more and more doctors comply, the very bacteria these medicines are designed to fight are developing the ability to resist their effects.

"People who have what is clearly a bacterial infection, with a clear need for antibiotics, should continue to take them," Dr. Taplin said. "There's no reason not to."

"But I think there's a message here for people who are pushing doctors for antibiotics, and taking them unnecessarily," he added.

To be smart about your own antibiotic use, consider discussing the following questions with your healthcare provider:

  1. Is an antibiotic likely to be beneficial for my illness? Is there anything else I can do to feel better sooner?
  2. Are there any alternatives to taking an antibiotic?
  3. Could my symptoms be due to a viral infection that won't be helped by an antibiotic?
  4. Are there tests that should be done to confirm whether or not I have a bacterial infection?
  5. For how long and how often should I take the antibiotic? Would there be any reason for me to stop taking it sooner?
  6. Is there a chance that I will be resistant to this antibiotic's effects? If so, how will I know, and what can I do about it?


From the National Women's Health Resource Center. Copyright 2003-2004 by the National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC). All rights reserved. Reproducing this content in any form is prohibited without written permission. For more information, please contact


American Cancer Society. "Too Soon to Worry about Antibiotic/Breast Cancer Link." February 18, 2004. Available online at


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work."


Warren King. "Study Links Antibiotics, Breast Cancer." Seattle Times, February 17, 2004. National Cancer Institute. "Study Shows Link Between Antibiotic Use and Increased Risk of Breast Cancer" and "Q&A: Understanding the Results." February 18, 2004.


Roberta B. Ness and Jane A. Cauley. "Antibiotics and Breast Cancer: What's the Meaning of This?" JAMA. 2004; 291: 880-81.

Christine M. Velicer et al. "Antibiotic Use in Relation to Risk of Breast Cancer." JAMA. 2204; 291: 827-35.


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