Bone meds battle breast cancer, too

Call it the law of unintended consequences--or in this case, benefits. Or consider it more evidence that as much as we know about how drugs work, we don't know it all. Today, the New England Journal of Medicine publishes a large study showing that commonly used bone-loss meds may cut breast cancer spread or recurrence by as much as one-third.

The new research involved 1,803 premenopausal women with estrogen-positive breast cancer. As part of their treatment, they got drugs that shut down their estrogen production and drugs that keep cancer cells from fueling themselves with the hormone. Half also got Zometa, the Novartis bone loss remedy. And that half saw a 36 percent greater reduction in cancer recurrence and metastases.

While some researchers stopped short of advocating that all breast cancer patients receive the bone drugs--they told the New York Times they want to see two other large studies first--they lauded the new data as a "landmark study" that offers "reason for real enthusiasm." Others said that bone-building drugs are already useful for women taking hormonal therapy to combat breast cancer, to counteract bone loss they might experience because of that estrogen loss. Now, it shows even more benefit. "I think you have to give it," a University of Miami cancer expert told the NYT.

- read the NYT story