A study recently released by the New England Journal of Medicine finds that drugs typically taken to treat osteoporosis may also help fight breast cancer.
The study, as reported in The New York Times, involved premenopausal women on drugs that cut off their estrogen production, which was fueling their tumors. Half of them received zoledronic acid, a drug marketed as Zometa. It’s a type of bisphosphonate that helps prevent bone loss. The patients who received the treatment had a 36 percent reduction in breast cancer recurrence or metastasis.
Doctors call the discovery a major milestone, but are waiting for more research before prescribing the drug to all breast cancer patients.
Many women diagnosed with breast cancer are already taking osteoporosis drugs. They use bisphosphonates to replace the bone building power taken away when their estrogen production is cut off. The idea to actually treat breast cancer with bone loss medication came about when researchers noticed that some cancers tend to spread to the bone. It turns out, breast cancer cells stimulate certain bone weakening cells, which in turn stimulate more cancer cells. The bisphosphonates were integrated into the treatment regimen as a way to fortify bones against this cycle and possibly prevent breast cancer from spreading. Some studies show that bisphosphonates might even help destroy cancer cells. Other studies investigating whether bisphosphonates could prevent cancer from spreading to the bones have produced mixed results.
The New England Journal of Medicine’s study, however, is opening up hope that these drugs may be used to treat all kinds of cancers. Other studies are underway to monitor their impacts on prostate and lung cancers. For now, doctors are still awaiting more data before declaring a decisive victory.