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Osteoporosis Drug Could Treat Breast Cancer, Study

Update Date: Oct 02, 2014 06:24 PM EDT

Drugs used to treat osteoporosis can also help relieve breast cancer symptoms, according to a new study.

Scientists recently discovered that medication used to treat bone deterioration in post-menopausal women could also reduce the risk of bone complications in breast cancer patients.

Researchers said that the latest study is one of the first to show that a common osteoporosis medication called bisphosphonate can significantly improve breast cancer survival rates.

"Skeletal metastases develop in up to 70 percent of women who die from breast cancer," co-researcher Dr. Richard Kremer, director of the Bone and Mineral Unit at the MUHC and a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, said in a news release. "This causes considerable suffering and is life-threatening. Preventing this could translate into saving a significant number of lives."

The latest study, which involved data from more than 21,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer, showed that taking oral bisphosphonates before or after diagnosis of cancer significantly reduced the risk of bone metastasis in women with early stage breast cancer. Furthermore, women with later stage breast cancer were significantly less likely to suffer bone metastasis if they took the osteoporosis drug after diagnosis.

"Our study is novel in that it mainly involved women who were post-menopausal and in whom bone-turnover is high due to osteoporosis," Dr. Richard Kremer who is also an RI-MUHC researcher, said in a news release. "We believe that this process results in an environment that is favorable for tumor cell growth and consequent metastasis. We know that bisphosphonates work by slowing down this bone-turnover. This will, in turn, make it harder for tumor cells to establish in the bone and may explain why we saw such a decline in metastasis."

"An association between bisphophonate use and improved survival was also observed and this merits further investigation," added co-lead author Dr. Nancy Mayo, RI-MUHC researcher and James McGill professor in the Faculty of Medicine, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill.

"Ours was an epidemiological study, involving a large number of women strengthening the importance of the findings. However, clinical interventional studies are needed before the results can be translated into standard clinical practice and guidelines," she concluded.

The findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI).

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