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Animal Antibiotics and Cancer

  • May 4, 2016
  • RPh on the Go

animal antibiotics swineRecent media coverage surrounding the potential link between cancer and the use of a certain veterinary antibiotic has created a great deal of public concern. The news stories are based on an FDA press announcement regarding the potential decision to rescind its approval of treating swine with carbadox. The potential risk is associated with trace amounts of carcinogenic residue left in pork products produced from swine treated with the drug. The manufacturer or the drug says they are close to proving the safety of their drug with new studies and plant to contest the ruling. The FDA has created a comprehensive list of questions and answers about the carbadox ruling, including the history, products affected, and recommendations.

Antibiotics in Animals

The use of antibiotics in animals is a commonly accepted practice. They are used for a variety of reasons. Using antibiotics to treat infected food producing animals is a necessary component in keeping the food supply functioning. Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics as a prophylactic increased over the years as it was found to be beneficial to the growth of the animals. This overuse of antibiotics has been a contributing factor in increased antibiotic resistance in animals and humans, a far more serious threat.


Carbadox was approved for use in swine to increase weight, improve feed efficiency, and to control bacterial swine enteritis and swine dysentery. This particular antimicrobial seems to have less impact on human medicine, and was generally considered safe. While the FDA is pursuing removing the substance from the food chain, this is because of the implications of long term exposure to residue left by carbadox, and the agency does not recommend making any immediate dietary changes.

Overuse of Antibiotics

The World Health Organization considers antibiotic resistance to be one of the main threats to global health. It can impact people of any sex, race, age, or nationality. While it is possible for antibiotic resistance to occur naturally, it is increasing rapidly due to the misuse of antibiotics in both animals and people. As some antibiotics become less effective many infections are becoming more difficult to treat, including gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Educating Patients

With the recent media coverage of the potential of animal antibiotic causing cancer in humans, patients may become more interested in the discussion of antibiotic use in general and how it can impact their health. Use this opportunity to create a discourse with clients about the dangers of not using antibiotics correctly with their own health management. Post reminders that about using antibiotics safely, such as:

  • Always finish your antibiotic prescription, unless you have an allergic reaction or are instructed by your physician otherwise.
  • Never use left over antibiotics.
  • Never share antibiotics with others.
  • Only use antibiotics that have been prescribed by a certified healthcare provider.
  • Keep vaccinations up to date.

Many patients will be concerned about the possibility of other antibiotics causing cancer, and may have additional questions about their use when filling a prescription. Some may even worry that they shouldn’t take their prescriptions in the future. Take the time to explain the risk associated with the concern over carbadox, the causes of antibiotic resistance, and how antibiotics should be used properly. This will allow patients to feel more confident and in control of their own health while preventing them from contributing to the larger problem of increased antibiotic resistance.


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