Background: Bacterial infections are a major cause of illness and death in patients who are neutropenic after chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Trials have shown the efficacy of antibiotic prophylaxis in decreasing the incidence of bacterial infections but not in reducing mortality rates.
Purpose: To evaluate whether antibiotic prophylaxis in neutropenic patients reduces mortality and incidence of infection and to assess related adverse events.
Data sources: The Cochrane Cancer Network register of trials (2004), The Cochrane Library (Issue 4, 2004), EMBASE (1980-2004), MEDLINE (1966-2004), and references of identified studies.
Study selection: Randomized, controlled trials comparing antibiotic prophylaxis with placebo or no intervention or another antibiotic in afebrile neutropenic patients.
Data extraction: Two reviewers independently appraised the quality of trials and extracted data.
Data synthesis: Ninety-five trials performed between 1973 and 2004 met inclusion criteria. Fifty-two trials addressed quinolone prophylaxis. Antibiotic prophylaxis significantly decreased the risk for death when compared with placebo or no treatment (relative risk, 0.67 [95% CI, 0.55 to 0.81]). All prophylactic antibiotics were associated with an increased risk for adverse events (relative risk, 1.69 [CI, 1.14 to 2.50]). Fluoroquinolone prophylaxis reduced the risk for all-cause mortality (relative risk, 0.52 [CI, 0.35 to 0.77]), as well as infection-related mortality, fever, clinically documented infections, and microbiologically documented infections. Fluoroquinolone prophylaxis increased the risk for harboring bacilli resistant to the specific drug after treatment and adverse events, but these results were not statistically significant (relative risks, 1.69 [CI, 0.73 to 3.92]) and 1.30 [CI, 0.61 to 2.76], respectively).
Limitations: Most trials involved patients with hematologic cancer. Data on all-cause mortality were missing in 10 of 50 trials comparing prophylaxis with no prophylaxis. Effect estimates were larger in trials of unclear methodologic quality compared with trials of adequate methodologic quality.
Conclusions: Antibiotic prophylaxis for neutropenic patients undergoing cytotoxic therapy reduces mortality. Mortality was substantially reduced when analysis was limited to fluoroquinolones. Antibiotic prophylaxis, preferably with a fluoroquinolone, should be considered for neutropenic patients.