A drug developed to treat osteoporosis appears to boost survival in women with certain types of breast cancer, according to two studies.

These preliminary findings regarding the bone-building drug zoledronic acid potentially give scores of women more options to battle their tumors. The studies were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Details Of One Study

The first study looked at premenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer receiving either the bone drug plus hormone therapy or a placebo plus hormone therapy for three years.

Earlier data from this study were encouraging, and this update-84 months after the trial's start-provides further evidence of improved disease-free survival and recurrence rates among women receiving zoledronic acid. The drug is known by the brand names Reclast and Zometa.


The recent research shows that women receiving zoledronic acid had a 28% reduced risk for recurrence and a 36% reduced risk for dying.

Women over the age of 40 received the most benefit, the researchers said.

"In general, the overall survival is excellent, which demonstrates that treating these patients without adjuvant chemotherapy is a very good approach," said study author Michael Gnant, MD, a professor of surgery at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria. He said the study received academic and not pharmaceutical funding.

Many women were still seeing the benefit four and five years after their treatment stopped. This means we've changed something in the beginning in terms of the disease," Dr. Gnant said.

Cancer patients often take bone-building drugs, commonly referred to as bisphosphonates, to prevent fractures related to the spread of cancer to the bone. But zoledronic acid is not an approved treatment for breast cancer in many countries, including the United States, which makes its availability uncertain, Dr. Gnant noted.

The Second Study

In another study, postmenopausal women who received zoledronic acid plus an aromatase inhibitor (drugs that block estrogen synthesis in the body) had a 29% lower risk for a recurrence and a 35% improvement in survival versus women receiving zoledronic acid plus a placebo.

The drug also appeared to increase bone density.

"We've been waiting for these data," said Jane Carleton, MD, an oncologist with Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success, New York. "Not only did it just prevent bone loss, it decreases the chances of the cancer coming back. That's powerful."

Research On Clodronate

A third study of bisphosphonates found that the drug clodronate reduced the likelihood of cancer spreading in postmenopausal women by about 9%, less than was hoped for.

Slightly more encouraging were reductions in mortality (16%). Clodronate is known by the brand name Bonefos.

The trial was partially supported by Bayer Schering Pharma Oy, which makes Bonefos.

Disappointing Results

A final study had disappointing results for patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy and another bisphosphonate, ibandronate (Boniva).

The drug did not improve either time to a recurrence or overall survival in women already treated with chemotherapy.

Other trials had shown more positive results.

Make Pills Easy to Swallow

Before putting the pill in your mouth, take a D deep breath and exhale to help you relax and reduce your gag reflex. Swallow some water, then place the pill far back on your tongue, and swallow it with another sip of water. Don't throw your head back when swallowing—it is better to tilt it forward and toward your chest. If you still have trouble—and if your doctor and pharmacist say it is OK-open capsules or crush pills and add to applesauce, chocolate pudding or other foods that go down easily. Or ask if there are easier-to-swallow versions available, such as liquids, powders or chewables.

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