Antibiotics Can Slow Growth of Skin Lymphoma Cells, Study Shows

Antibiotics Inhibit Skin Lymphoma

A new study published in the journal Blood shows that antibiotics can be helpful in treatment of people with a rare type of skin cancer known as cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL).



CTCL is a form of cancer that affects the T-cells of the immune system, as its name seems to suggest. It weakens the immune system and makes a patient less able to fight infections effectively. The effect of this is seen on the skin as it becomes less resistant to bacteria.

This rare type of skin lymphoma usually makes patients to contract staphylococcal infections in their skin.

Healthy immune cells in a patient’s body are made to work harder when there is a staphylococcal infection. They produce cytokines, which ideally should bolster the health and functions of the immune system. But cancer cells take advantage of these growth substances to boost their own growth.

The new study by researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen shows that antibiotics can check this hijacking. The drugs can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

“When we inhibit the staphylococcal bacteria with antibiotics, we simultaneously remove the activation of the immune cells,” says lead author Professor Niels Ødum of the LEO Foundation Skin Immunology Research Center at the University of Copenhagen. “This means that they do not produce as many cytokines, and therefore, the cancer cannot get the extra ‘fuel’.”

The result of that is that the cancer cells are not able to replicate as rapidly as they did when there were plentiful growth substances.

Ground-Breaking Discovery

Ødum described the new finding as ground-breaking. This was the first time such connection has been observed between cancer cells and bacteria in people living with cancer, according to him.

Doctors have always been hesitant about giving antibiotics to patients with this rare lymphoma, along with staphylococcal infections. They fear that these agents might make bacteria to become more resistant to treatment.

It is this situation of things that makes the finding that aggressive treatment of the skin lymphoma with antibiotics will both help to block the staphylococcal bacteria and growth of cancer cells.

Ødum noted that it had previously been observed that antibiotics could be beneficial to CTCL patients. But what wasn’t clear was whether such had any effect on the cancer itself. This is the void seemingly filled by the new research.

Before making this finding, the researchers had carried out studies and tests, including molecular studies and laboratory tests on blood and skin tissue samples, for many years

Direction for More-Effective Treatments

The study points at a direction to consider for CTCL treatment. Now, the researchers want to study the relationship between the cancer and bacteria better. The hope is that this would lead to development of more effective treatments for the lymphoma.

It is not yet clear whether this finding applies to lymphoma only or extends to other forms of cancer. But antibiotics appeared to be particularly useful for this type of cancer because it occurs within the immune system, according to Ødum.

The ultimate aim for the researchers is to develop new treatments that will target only harmful bacteria for elimination while leaving out the beneficial ones. This, they hope, would help protect the skin.




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