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Study Raises New Questions About Bone Drugs, Cancer Risk

Sep 3, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Osteoporosis drugs like Actonel, Boniva, and Fosamax could double the risk of esophageal cancer if they are used over a long period of time, according to the findings from a new study. The research, which was funded by Britain’s Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, was published today in the British Medical Journal.

Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax and similar bone drugs belong to a class of medications known as oral bisphosphonates. They are most commonly prescribed to postmenopausal women.

The study involved an analysis of data from a nationwide medical practice research registry in the UK, and followed about 90,000 people for 8 years. It included nearly 3,000 patients with esophageal cancer, 2,000 patients with stomach cancer, and 10,600 patients with colorectal cancer diagnosed between 1995 and 2005.

In people aged 60 to 70 who had 10 or more prescriptions for oral osteoporosis drugs for about 5 years, the study found the risk for developing esophageal cancer risk was 2 in 1,000. Normally, the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, or throat, in people aged 60 to 79 is 1 in 1,000.

Researchers did not find any link between the drugs and stomach or bowel cancer.

According to a report on WebMD, this is not the first time drugs like Actonel, Boniva and Fosamax have raised cancer worries. A year and half ago, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) reported that there had been 23 cases of the cancer in Fosamax users in the US between 1995 and 2008. Another 31 cases of the cancer were reported among bisphosphonate users in Europe and Japan.

Since then, several more cases of esophageal cancer associated with bisphosphonate use have been reported to the FDA, bringing the total to 34, WebMD said.

The authors of this latest study did note that it was only observational and did not show that the osteoporosis drugs caused cancer. Just last month, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that used the same data found that the medications were not linked to an increased risk of cancer. However, according to WebMD, the British Medical Journal study followed patients for nearly twice as long as the earlier one had.

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