Common Drug May Prevent Bone Loss from Breast Cancer Treatment


University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers found that some breast cancer patients may be able to prevent bone loss by adding zoledronic acid to their treatment plan.

For breast cancers that are estrogen sensitive, a common treatment is aromatase inhibitors (AI) that lower the presence of estrogen in the body to slow the growth of some cancers. The drugs are most often used in postmenopausal women. One of the side effects is that it places women at an increased risk for osteoporosis.

Currently, there are three AI’s approved by the US FDA: Anastrazole (Arimedex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara).

Dr. Adam Brufsky, MD PhD, associate director of clinical investigations at UPCI and the director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at Magee Womens Hospital, studied 602 postmenopausal women who were diagnosed with stage one, two or three estrogen or progesterone receptor-positive breast cancer. After five years, those who received treatment with zoledronic acid had a 6.2% increase in bone density, while those who were untreated lost bone at a rate of 2.4%.


Zoledronic acid works by binding to the bone to prevent it from losing calcium, maintaining bone strength and helping to prevent fractures. Zoledronic acid, or zoledronate, is an injected medication is marketed by Novartis under the breand names Zometa, Zomera, Aclasta, and Reclast.

The newest research affirms findings from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this year, which reported that premenopausal breast cancer patients who had infusions of zoledronic acid were a third less likely to have a recurrence and metastases than women who did not get it. Users of the drug were also less likely to develop a new cancer in the opposite breast.

Zometa has also been used to prevent skeletal fractures in patients with multiple myeloma and prostate cancer.

Dr. Brufsky estimates that up to 30,000 breast cancer patients could benefit from this therapy each year.

Sources Include: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, National Cancer Institute, and National Institutes of Health