Pneumonia risk has been found to be higher in patients undergoing breast cancer treatment. There has been a consensus among the medical community that pneumonia in cancer patients was a result of a weakened immune system and exposure to multiresistant bacteria – also known as superbacteria – causing the lung infection. Cancer patients, in particular, are at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia as they frequently visit hospitals.
The researchers analyzed medical data from 325 cancer patients who were hospitalized with pneumonia. They found low rates of multiresistant pathogens among the patients – which implies the bacteria may not be as important in pneumonia development among cancer patients as previously believed.
Researcher Jorge Salluh said, “In our daily experience in the medical clinic, we already had this perception and our study came to prove it. The severity of illness and organ dysfunction seems to be the best predictors of outcome in this population.”
“We give to the patients two or three broad-spectrum antibiotic which acts against a wide range of multiresistant bacteria. However, the reality is that the incidence of bacteria varies according the region of the globe and not all cancer patients with pneumonia are affected by superbacteria,” Salluh added.
Because diagnostic tests take at least 72 hours to yield results, physicians usually resort to broad-spectrum antibiotics as their first line of pneumonia treatment among cancer patients. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to side effects and antibiotic resistance, which is becoming a worldwide problem, according to the World Health Organization.
The researchers are now looking for more personalized approaches to treatment and faster testing methods to avoid the unnecessary use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Salluh concluded, “Our goal is know how to choose the treatment that is more appropriate for each patient.”
How breast cancer can lead to pneumonia
When breast cancer has reached stage four – metastatic cancer – it has spread to different organs. Removing the cancer in this case is often difficult if not impossible. Developing pneumonia in stage 4 breast cancer can be highly problematic.
Stage 4 breast cancer patients are at a higher risk for pneumonia due to surgeries they may have to undergo to remove the cancer. Not only do these surgeries put extra stress on an already fragile body, but as a result, the patients are exposed to other bacteria that can lead to pneumonia.
Radiation therapy, too, can increase the risk of pneumonia, as it further weakens the immune system, making it difficult to fight off any infections.
Treatment for pneumonia is stage 4 breast cancer includes antibiotics, antiviral medications, cough medications, and over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and discomfort.