Common Osteoporosis Drugs Linked to Increased Cancer Risk

Oral bisphosphonates may double risk of oesophageal cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Oral bisphosphonates, a treatment for bone disease, may double the risk of developing esophageal cancer (cancer of the gullet), according to a new study from the University of Oxford.

These drugs are the commonly prescribed drug to treat osteoporosis and other bone diseases. Case reports had suggested a possible link between the drugs and esophageal cancer, so researchers at the University of Oxford's Cancer Epidemiology Unit and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency conducted a large-scale study to determine this possibility.

The researchers analyzed data from the UK General Practice Research Database, which contains 6 million anonymous medical records for 6 million patients. They focused on individuals over age 40 diagnosed between 1995 and 2005 with stomach cancer (2,018 patients), esophageal cancer (2,954 patients) and colorectal cancer (10,641). Each case was compared with five controls who were matched for age, sex, general practice and observation period. Risk for esophageal cancer doubled in patients with 10 or more prescriptions or with prescriptions for bisphosphonates for more than five years compared to individuals with no prescription for the treatment.

There was no risk associated with bisphosphonates and colorectal or stomach cancers.

Esophageal cancer risk remains low, even in patients who take bisphosphonates, said lead author, Dr Jane Green, who said their findings "are part of a wider picture" assessing the risks and benefits of the bone-disease treatment.

On a related note, a new study from Duke University indicates patients most interested in maintaining a sense of contol in their lives are less likely to fill prescriptions for oral bisphosphonates than those who are less concerned about control. Commonly referred to as "control freaks" or type-A personalities in society, individuals with whom control is a priority are also less likely to fill a prescription on time, continue taking a prescription and/or take prescriptions as frequently as those who are less control-oriented. 

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Review Date: 
January 10, 2011
Last Updated:
January 10, 2011