Bone protection drug 'could extend life of older breast cancer patients'

27 September 2011

A drug used to protect bones may extend survival in older breast cancer patients, according to new research.

Researchers at the universities of Sheffield and Leeds have found that the bisphosphonate drug zoledronic acid boosts disease-free survival in postmenopausal breast cancer patients but may have a more negative effect on younger sufferers.

Led by Professor Robert Coleman from the University of Sheffield, the AZURE study involved 3,360 women with early breast cancer from 174 centres in the UK, Australia, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Taiwan and Thailand.

Patients received standard chemotherapy and endocrine therapy (hormone therapy) for their breast cancer, to try and prevent recurrence or spread of the disease, with or without zoledronic acid. Groups of patients were tested for different reactions to the techniques which resulted in the findings.

Women who had passed through the first five years of menopause showed significantly improved disease-free and overall survival.

Prof Coleman said: "Our findings could mean a major new treatment approach for the tens of thousands of women in the UK who develop breast cancer."

He added that they are now investigating the hormone levels in blood and the biology of the breast tumours to help clarify the reasons behind the results.

Zoledronic acid is used to prevent skeletal fractures in patients with cancers such as multiple myeloma and prostate cancer, as well as for treating osteoporosis.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Coleman, R. et al., "Breast-Cancer Adjuvant Therapy with Zoledronic Acid", The New England Journal of Medicine, September 25th 2011.

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