An Antibiotic Benefit for Childhood Leukemia

Prophylactic antibiotics may reduce bacterial infection risk in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) For kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), bacterial infections can cause dangerous complications. But a new treatment option may be able to help.

A new study found that prophylactic antibiotics may significantly reduce the risk of serious bacterial infections in kids with ALL during their critical first month of treatment.

ALL is a blood and bone marrow cancer that can get worse quickly when not promptly treated. It is also the most common childhood cancer.

Both ALL and its treatments can affect kids' immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to infection. This risk is especially high during the "induction" phase of treatment, which includes intense chemotherapy. About 1 to 2 percent of kids with ALL die during the first month of treatment due to bacterial infection-related complications.

"While larger, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings, these are very exciting results," said lead study author Lewis B. Silverman, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, in a press release. "The use of antibacterial prophylaxis appears to have made a profound difference for our patients."

For this study, Dr. Silverman and team looked at 229 kids diagnosed with ALL between 2012 and 2015. All of these patients received antibiotics throughout the entirety of their treatment induction phase, whether or not they developed a fever.

Antibiotic treatment appeared to reduce the rate of bacterial infection by around 60 percent compared to traditional treatment.

No significant differences in the rate of mortality, fungal infection or Clostridium difficile infection (a bacteria that causes diarrhea and serious intestinal problems) between the two treatment options were found.

This study was presented Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Information on funding sources was not available at the time of publication. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
December 7, 2015
Last Updated:
December 8, 2015