There are hundreds of antibiotic medications being prescribed today. Several are used to fight cancer in conjunction with other forms of treatment. These include radiation, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Anticancer antibiotics have been found in studies to promote cancer cell death, plus prevent the spread of cancerous cells throughout the body (metastasis). Some antibiotics have also been shown to boost the immune system, making treatments such as radiation more effective.

These findings are highly positive. However, antibiotics have also been found to have a negative effect on cancer growth and treatment. In fact, broad-spectrum antibiotics have been shown to reduce overall survival rates in some cancer patients receiving immunotherapy treatments. A study that analyzed the use of prescribed antibiotics during platinum chemotherapy showed similar results.

Antibiotics alter the gut microbiota by killing off good bacteria as well as bad. This disruption of the intestinal microbiome can reduce the body’s ability to fight off cancer, plus increase inflammation. Inflammation is often associated with cancer development and progression.

Cancer treatment, with or without antibiotics, can be complicated. The type and stage of cancer being treated are important variables. Patient responses to treatments are also not uniform, or one-size-fits-all.

If you’re considering antibiotic therapy for cancer, talk to your oncologist. Questions to ask include:

  • What antibiotics are currently being used to treat my specific type and stage of cancer?
  • How large is the body of evidence indicating that this treatment is viable?
  • Are there studies that back up results in humans or in animals?
  • What side effects can I expect from this treatment?
  • How will adding antibiotics to my treatment impact upon my prognosis?
  • Are there drug interactions associated with this antibiotic?

Here are some antibiotics that you and your doctor may wish to consider adding to your treatment:

Doxorubicin is also referred to as adriamycin. Itis a type of anthracycline anticancer antibiotic. Anthracyclines are a class of chemotherapy drugs that are also antibiotics.

Doxorubicin comes from the bacterium Streptomyces peucetius. It works by damaging cell DNA and killing off cancer cells. It also blocks an enzyme needed for cell repair and division.

Doxorubicin has several brand names, including Lipodox and Doxil.

This medication is used to treat several types of cancers, including:

Bleomycin is an antineoplastic antibiotic that is used in chemotherapy. It was approved by the FDA to treat certain types of cancers in 1975. This medication has been shown to be highly effective for treating nonmelanoma head and neck cancer.

It comes from the bacterium Streptomyces verticillus. Bleomycin blocks cancer cell growth by binding to DNA and breaking its strands.

Bleomycin’s brand name is Blenoxane.

Bleomycin is used to treat:

Daunorubicin is an anthracycline antibiotic. It is used in conjunction with other medications as a first-line anticancer drug during remission induction therapy.

Daunorubicin comes from the bacterium Streptomyces coeruleorubidus. It kills cancer cells by blocking an enzyme needed for cell division and DNA repair.

Daunorubicin’s brand name is Cerubidine.

This medication is used to treat:

Mitomycin is an antineoplastic antibiotic. This type of anticancer antibiotic works by interfering with cell DNA and blocking cell growth. Mitomycin is also an alkylating agent. Alkylating agents prevent DNA strands from linking. This breaks DNA strands and stops cancer cells from multiplying.

Mitomycin comes from the bacterium Streptomyces.

Mitomycin’s brand name is Jelmyto.

It is used to treat:

Plicamycin is an antineoplastic antibiotic. It is used in hospitalized cancer patients who are not viable candidates for surgery or radiation.

Plicamycin comes from the bacterium Streptomyces plicatus. It works by binding to cell DNA, preventing them from making proteins and RNA.

This medication can cause severe side effects and is not designed for broad-based cancer treatment.

Plicamycin’s brand name is Mithracin.

It is used to treat:

  • testicular cancer

There are many drugs that can be used during cancer treatment. Your healthcare professional can help you find which drug is best for your particular situation.

Antibiotics used in cancer treatment are often combined with other treatments like:

  • radiation
  • immunotherapy
  • chemotherapy


Adriamycin. (n.d.).

Brandt, J.P., et al. Bleomycin. (2021).

Chambers, L.M., et al. Impact of antibiotic treatment during platinum chemotherapy on survival and recurrence in women with advanced epithelial ovarian cancer. (2020).

Daunorubicin hydrochloride. (n.d.).

Doxorubicin hydrochloride. (n.d.).

Gao, Y., et al. Antibiotics for cancer treatment: a double-edged sword. (2020).

Groselj, A., et al. Efficiency of electrochemotherapy with reduced bleomycin dose in the treatment of nonmelanoma head and neck skin cancer: preliminary results. (2017).

Khosravi, A., et al. Disruption of the gut microbiome as a risk factor for microbial infections. (2013).

Martins Lopes, M.S., et al. Antibiotics, cancer risk and oncologic treatment efficacy: a practical review of the literature. (2020).

Mitomycin. (n.d.).

Overview antibiotics. (2019).

Petrelli, F., et al. Survival of patients treated with antibiotics and immunotherapy for cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (2020).

Plycamycin. (2020).

Plycamycin. (n.d.).

Singh, N., et al. Inflammation and cancer. (2019).

Thorne, C.F., et al. Doxorubicin pathways: pharmacodynamics and adverse effects. (2011). Overview antibiotics. (2019).

Uribe-Herranz, M., et al. Gut microbiota modulate dendritic cell antigen presentation and radiotherapy-induced antitumor immune response. (2019).

Xia, D. et al. Over-expression of CHAF1A in epithelial ovarian cancer can promote cell proliferation and prohibit cell apoptosis. (2017).