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Osteoporosis Drugs May Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risk


Can drugs used to treat osteoporosis also reduce your risk of colorectal cancer? Results of an international study suggest that bisphosphonates, a common class of drugs used to prevent bone loss, also offer women a significantly reduced risk of colon cancer.

Bisphosphonates may help your bones and colon

Bisphosphonates are antiresorptive drugs that work by slowing or stopping the loss of bone tissue. These medications may maintain or increase bone density and strength, help prevent the development of osteoporosis, and also treat other bone diseases such as Paget’s disease. Although both men and women can take bisphosphonates, women take the majority of these drugs.

In a study headed by Professor Gad Rennert, MD, PhD, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Faculty of Medicine, a research team evaluated data from the pharmacy records of 1,866 postmenopausal women and noted the participants’ use of bisphosphonates.

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The investigative team found that use of bisphosphonates before a diagnosis of colon cancer was strongly associated with a significantly lower risk for colorectal cancer. This finding held true even after the researchers made adjustments for other risk factors for colorectal cancer, including diet, exercise, hormone replacement therapy, family history, and body mass index.

Previous studies have shown that diet and lack of physical activity play a significant role in colorectal cancer, a disease that is responsible for more than 51,000 deaths per year in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Diets high in fat and low in fruits, vegetables, calcium, folate, and fiber have been named as factors in an increased risk of this cancer.

Statins, which are used to lower cholesterol, have also been named as possible players in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. According to Stephen Gruber, MD, MPH, PhD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a co-author of the Technion study, bisphosphonates share the same type of metabolic pathway as do statins, and “this fact adds to the credibility of the current finding by adding biological plausibility.”

The findings of this new study suggest that the osteoporosis drugs bisphosphonates can be included as part of the arsenal in the fight to prevent colorectal cancer. When combined with a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, and weight control, individuals may do well in warding off this deadly cancer.

American Technion Society, news release Feb. 15, 2011
National Cancer Institute