Empirical antibiotics targeting gram-positive bacteria for the treatment of febrile neutropenic patients with cancer

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jun 3;6(6):CD003914. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003914.pub4.


Background: The pattern of infections among neutropenic patients with cancer has shifted in the last decades to a predominance of gram-positive infections. Some of these gram-positive bacteria are increasingly resistant to beta-lactams and necessitate specific antibiotic treatment.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of empirical anti-gram-positive (antiGP) antibiotic treatment for febrile neutropenic patients with cancer in terms of mortality and treatment failure. To assess the rate of resistance development, further infections and adverse events associated with additional antiGP treatment.

Search methods: For the review update we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (2017, Issue 2), MEDLINE (May 2012 to 2017), Embase (May 2012 to 2017), LILACS (2012 to 2017), conference proceedings, ClinicalTrials.gov trial registry, and the references of the included studies. We contacted the first authors of all included and potentially relevant trials.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing one antibiotic regimen versus the same regimen with the addition of an antiGP antibiotic for the treatment of febrile neutropenic patients with cancer.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias, and extracted all data. Risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. A random-effects model was used for all comparisons showing substantial heterogeneity (I2 > 50%). Outcomes were extracted by intention-to-treat and the analysis was patient-based whenever possible.

Main results: Fourteen trials and 2782 patients or episodes were included. Empirical antiGP antibiotics were tested at the onset of treatment in 12 studies, and for persistent fever in two studies. The antiGP treatment was a glycopeptide in nine trials. Eight studies were assessed in the overall mortality comparison and no significant difference was seen between the comparator arms, RR of 0.90 (95% CI 0.64 to 1.25; 8 studies, 1242 patients; moderate-quality data). Eleven trials assessed failure, including modifications as failures, while seven assessed overall failure disregarding treatment modifications. Failure with modifications was reduced, RR of 0.72 (95% CI 0.65 to 0.79; 11 studies, 2169 patients; very low-quality data), while overall failure was the same, RR of 1.00 (95% CI 0.79 to 1.27; 7 studies, 943 patients; low-quality data). Sensitivity analysis for allocation concealment and incomplete outcome data did not change the results. Failure among patients with gram-positive infections was reduced with antiGP treatment, RR of 0.56 (95% CI 0.38 to 0.84, 5 studies, 175 patients), although, mortality among these patients was not changed.Data regarding other patient subgroups likely to benefit from antiGP treatment were not available. Glycopeptides did not increase fungal superinfection rates and were associated with a reduction in documented gram-positive superinfections. Resistant colonisation was not documented in the studies.

Authors' conclusions: Based on very low- or low-quality evidence using the GRADE approach and overall low risk of bias, the current evidence shows that the empirical routine addition of antiGP treatment, namely glycopeptides, does not improve the outcomes of febrile neutropenic patients with cancer.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Febrile Neutropenia / drug therapy*
  • Febrile Neutropenia / mortality
  • Glycopeptides / adverse effects
  • Glycopeptides / therapeutic use
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / drug therapy*
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / mortality
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Failure


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Glycopeptides