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Can having healthy bones help fight cancer?

December 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Can having healthy bones help fight cancer? Researchers have found women taking certain osteoporosis drugs are less likely to develop breast cancer. Kaiser Permanente researchers say it's possible the medications may make it more difficult for tumors to grow.Thirty million prescriptions are written for Fosamax, Boniva, and Zometa every year in the U.S. These bisphosphonates prevent bone loss and are used to treat osteoporosis, but emerging research finds they may also fight breast cancer.

"Very encouraging data has shown that those agents not only protect the skeleton, they also may have anti-cancer activity," said Glendale Adventist oncologist Dr. Nubar Boghassian. "They may have an anti-tumor effect."

Dr. Boghassian says scientists have long suspected the additional benefits.

Breast cancer patients taking the drugs for their bones had fewer incidents of cancer in their second breast.

Researchers started investigating. Could these medications actually reduce the odds of developing breast cancer in the first place? There is a possibility.

Researchers examining records on more than 150,000 women in a U.S. government health study found those taking the drugs for osteoporosis were 32-percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers say it may stop cancer in many ways.

"One of them it boosts the immune system in patients or may decrease the angiogenesis new cancer blood vessel formation," said Dr. Boghassian. "It is a very interesting era. There will probably be a new dimension treatment of cancer."

But should all women take these drugs? Dr. Boghassian says numerous studies are underway to determine all the benefits and drawbacks.

Long term use of bisphosphonate drugs may cause a strain on liver and kidney function. If doctors see a change in levels, the dosage can be adjusted.

Researchers are planning several studies to determine how these drugs can be used to treat and prevent cancer.


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