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Bisphosphonates and cancer

Bisphosphonates are drugs that slow down or prevent bone damage. They also lower calcium levels.

How cancer can affect the bones

Some cancers can cause bone pain and weakness. These are most often cancers that have started in another part of the body and have spread to the bone (secondary bone cancer).

Some types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapies, can also weaken the bones. You may hear bisphosphonates called bone hardening or bone strengthening treatment. 

There are several types of cancer that can affect the bones. The most common types are myeloma, breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.

Bisphosphonates might help to:

  • prevent or control bone thinning (osteoporosis)
  • reduce the risk of bones breaking
  • reduce the level of calcium in your blood
  • reduce pain

Bisphosphonate treatment can stop some types of cancer from spreading into the bone for some people. Studies have also shown that bisphosphonates can help some people with myeloma, secondary breast cancer and secondary prostate cancer to live longer.

Types of bisphosphonate

There are several different types of bisphosphonate, including:

  • disodium pamidronate (Aredia)
  • ibandronic acid or ibandronate (Bondronat)
  • sodium clodronate (Bonefos, Clasteon, Loron)
  • zoledronic acid or zoledronate (Zometa)

You can have clodronate (Bonefos, Clasteon, Loron) as tablets or capsules. You have ibandronate (Bondronat) either or by drip into your vein (infusion) or as tablets. You have zoledronic acid (Zometa) and pamidronate (Aredia) as a drip. 

Most of the research so far has looked at using bisphosphonates with secondary breast cancer, secondary prostate cancer and myeloma. The type of bisphosphonate your doctor prescribes for you will depend on the type of cancer you have. You will have one that works for your type of cancer. 

There might sometimes be a choice of bisphosphonates for your type of cancer. Your doctor will give you the bisphosphonate best suited to your medical and practical needs. For example, you might prefer to take a bisphosphonate tablet at home rather than travel to hospital every month for treatment by drip.

Last reviewed: 
03 Jun 2014
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