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Probiotics and the Cancer Patient

Recently a number of Cancer patients and their caregivers have asked about the safety of taking Probiotics around their surgery. In my case that means around the time of their Pancreatic, Liver and NanoKnife operations. There is no fixed  answer about Probiotics as there are many factors that influence whether it is beneficial; but first and foremost you the patient or caregiver must be totally honest and forthright with your physician and surgeon if you are taking them and they should definitely not be resumed until being cleared by your doctor. This is particularly important around surgery and chemotherapy when an already compromised immune system is even more at risk for complications; especially sepsis and bacteremia because of the  increased permeability or “leakiness” of the intestinal tract. Though Probiotics are usually innocuous bacteria, these as well as other native more virulent bacteria can transmigrate into the body with disastrous consequences.

Just remember that Probiotics are considered a “nutra-ceutical” rather than a “pharmaceutic.” Because their purity of composition is not regulated by any established FDA guidelines as are medications, doses can vary quite significantly as can the side effects.  As a consequence just be aware that when taken you are consuming billions of potentially lethal bacteria which can cause harm, including sepsis and death in the malnourished and immune-compromised Cancer patient. 

The most common cancers associated with this are those in which malnutrition plays a significant  role. These include Pancreatic, Gastric, Esophageal and Lung Cancers. It occurs less often with Colon, Breast and Melanoma until the very late stages. 

So just to be perfectly clear Probiotics can be great for some patients, especially those that healthy and non-compromised. But even then the onus rests on the patient to inform the doctor or surgeon at consultation and on the intake forms that the patient is or has taken Probiotics and ask the appropriate course of action.  Failure to do so may have very serious consequences.

Included is a brief article from “Livestrong” that I hope you will find useful.

Can Probiotics Be Harmful to Cancer Patients?


Robert B Donoway, MD, FACS, FSSO

Atlas Oncology

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