To help reduce the chances of contracting a life-threatening infection during or after surgery, many patients are given antibiotics. But the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, called “superbugs,” threatens to create a world where preventive antibiotics are far less effective, and even the most common or low-risk procedures are more dangerous.

In a new study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) estimate that a 30 percent drop in the effectiveness of antibiotics used before surgery would result in 120,000 additional infections and more than 6,000 additional deaths a year in the U.S. alone. The study is the first to quantify the potential effect of antibiotic resistance on cancer treatments and common surgeries like C-sections, hip replacements and appendectomies.

The projected increase in infections is not the only serious concern; there’s also the impact that increased risk will have on access to surgery and chemotherapy. If patients have weakened immune systems and antibiotics can’t protect them, many won’t have the option of surgery—or they may not choose to have surgery because the cumulative risks are too great.

Although the trend in antibiotic resistance is alarming, the researchers emphasize that it can be reversed with more public education on the proper use of antibiotics and significant investments in antibiotic stewardship.

Read more about what these researchers recommend to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics:

Half of Bugs That Cause Infections After Surgery are Antibiotic Resistant - TIME

Antibiotic resistance could lead to thousands more deaths, study finds – Al Jazeera America

Antibiotic Resistance Could Kill Thousands of People - ThinkProgress