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Superbugs Could Put an End to Chemotherapy As Cancer Treatment Option

Chemotherapy has changed the way humans fight cancer, but new research shows that a growing threat may eliminate chemo as a viable treatment option for some patients.

That threat is superbugs.

Superbugs are strains of bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics.

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Right now, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) results in 700,000 deaths per year, but by 2050, it is estimated that deaths associated with AMR could reach 10 million worldwide, according to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance from December 2014.

This means that by 2050 superbugs are expected to kill more people than cancer does — and that’s probably only because treatments like chemo are currently available.

The concern now is that as superbugs become common, treating infections that may arise become more difficult.

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Ewen Harrison is a senior lecturer in general surgery at the University of Edinburgh and he is the author of a new study about infections that develop in patients after they’ve had surgery.

When someone develops an infection, they are normally given medication like an antibiotics to treat it. Antibiotics also improve the safety of medical procedures like chemo.

But Harrison’s study found that a fifth of the people were resistant to antibiotics, according to CBC.

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These infections can be painful and uncomfortable, but they also delay discharge from the hospital, making it harder for people to return to work, and they are costly for health-care systems, according to Harrison.

Harrison said that the US estimate was a cost of $35,000 per infection.

"There are clear signs in the study that the antibiotic resistance … is much more common than had been previously anticipated," he told CBC.

Read More: World Health Organization: Action plan to combat potentially catastrophic resistance to antibiotics

A study from 2015 also indicated that more people will die from surgical procedures and cancer treatments if superbugs continue to develop resistance to common antibiotics, according to CBC.

So scientists and researchers are working to find new antibiotics and governments are implementing AMR plans.

In May 2015, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

Read More: Antibiotics Are Becoming Less Effective So Canada Is Planning For Antimicrobial Resistance

The goals were to improve awareness and understanding, to strengthen surveillance and improve research, as well as to reduce infections, and increase investment in new medicines and tools, among others.

Individual countries have set out national plans to help achieve these goals.

Canada, for instance, released "Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance and Antimicrobial Use: A Pan-Canadian Framework for Action" this past September.

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"Antimicrobial resistance is a serious global health threat that cannot be overlooked. Our Government is committed to taking action to mitigate the impact of antimicrobial resistance on Canadians," Canada’s Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement.

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