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"Landmark" study suggests osteoporosis drugs may fight breast cancer

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine just this week has created hope that drugs like Zometa, a treatment for osteoporosis intended to enhance bone development, may actually stymie cancer cells in estrogen-fueled cancers.  Findings from this study suggest that in as many as one-third of breast cancer cases, biophosphonates such as zoledronic acid, prescribed in conjunction with other chemotherapy, would prevent recurrences and metastases of breast cancer, in particular, since breast cancer often migrates to the bones.

Oncologists and researchers are expressing varying levels of enthusiasm for this research, which included more than 1800 premenopausal women.  Dr. James Ingle of the Mayo Clinic expressed one of the more restrained reactions and still claimed that the study is "reason for real enthusiasm".    Women who received bisphosphonate twice a year for three years demonstrated a 36 percent reduction in recurrences and metastases, when compared with patients who received only standard chemotherapy.  

Researchers theorized that if bisphosphonates interfere with the production and activity of osteoclasts--a bone cell that breaks down other bone cells--they would also interfere with breast cancer cells that have migrated to the bones and stimulate the activity of osteoclasts.  It appears that they were right.  This research strongly implies, as have two earlier, smaller studies, that bisphosphonates like Zometa actually squelch these pioneer tumor cells soon after they migrate to the bones and actually prevent recurrences or metastases.  If this study is borne out, the addition of bisphosphonates to cancer treatment would have the same impact on life expectancy for breast cancer patients as has currently existing chemotherapy:  in other words, we would essentially "double" our treatment effectiveness, according to the commentators.  That is certainly "reason for real enthusiasm."

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