Drugs may avert infections in chemo patients

September 09, 2005|By Michelle Fay Cortez | Michelle Fay Cortez,BLOOMBERG NEWS SERVICE

Antibiotics given to cancer patients whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy may avert some fevers and infections, according to two studies in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Previous small studies yielded mixed results when doctors tried to head off disease by administering the drugs before illness appeared. The emergence of potentially fatal drug- resistant organisms discouraged such early use, which currently isn't recommended, the researchers said.

The two new studies, involving 2,325 patients in Italy and the United Kingdom, provide the first definitive evidence that antibiotic therapy for the highest-risk patients may ward off infections, prevent fevers and lower hospitalization rates. Doctors must be careful how they use the drugs, researchers said.

"Treatment should not be standard for all cancer patients before they receive cancer chemotherapy," said Albano Del Favero, professor of internal medicine at the University of Perugia in Italy, in an e-mail. "Its uses should be limited to `high risk' patients who may benefit more."

In his study, 65 percent of patients with blood cancers or solid tumors who were taking the antibiotic levofloxacin developed fevers, compared with 85 percent of those given a placebo. The drug-treated group also had lower rates of confirmed disease and severe blood infections.

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