Taking antibiotics while receiving immunotherapy (specifically “checkpoint inhibitors”) dramatically reduces the effectiveness and survival rate of patients undergoing these types of cancer treatment.
A 2018 study found that patients who took antibiotics while on a checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy survived less than half as long, 317 days, as those who did not take the drugs, 651 days.
We know that the gut microbiome is involved in immunotherapy responses. It is believed that taking antibiotics known to alter the gut microbiome reduce the effectiveness of checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy drugs.
Gut Microbiome Testing:
Maintaining a healthful gut microbiome during immunotherapy is clearly important. Testing the gut microbiome of my oncology patients is one of the most common components of my functional medicine practice. If we identify abnormalities in gut flora, targeted (i.e. dietary, supplements, pharmaceutical) interventions may be recommended.
Although the above information is important, we must keep in mind that antibiotics save lives. When a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits outweigh the risks.
However the overuse of antibiotics is common. The Centers for Disease Control states “Antibiotics won’t help for some common bacterial infections including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, and some ear infections. An antibiotic will not make you feel better if you have a virus. Antibiotics do not work on viral infections, such as colds, flu, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green.”