Bone-Density Drug Could Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk

Israeli and American researchers reported this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on a new study suggesting that postmenopausal women taking alendronate (Fosamax) were less likely to develop colorectal cancer.

The results are “intriguing,” said Eric Jacobs, the American Cancer Society’s Strategic Director of Pharmacoepidemiology in Reuters Health. However, Jacobs cautioned, a recent large United Kingdom study showed no link between bisphosphonates and colon cancer, but a higher risk of esophageal (throat) cancer. Bone-density drugs are taken by millions of people for osteoporosis and there have been rare but severe side effects including jaw-bone deterioration. Effects of long-term use are not yet known.

Using an Israeli population, the researchers found 933 postmenopausal women diagnosed with colorectal cancer. They matched these patients with 933 “controls”—women of the same age, ethnicity, and clinic location. Of these women, 97 who developed colorectal cancer had taken alendronate (Fosamax), compared to 138 “controls” who had taken the medicine and did not develop cancer. The associated lower risk persisted even after adjusting for known colorectal cancer risk facts such as physical activity and diet.

The study’s authors did caution that their study should only serve to “generate a hypothesis” for further investigation. For example, the bone-density drugs work on the same biologic pathways as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, which also have shown some association with lower rates of colorectal cancer.

Patient take-away:

  • If you’re taking a bone-density drug for osteoporosis, you still need to keep up with screening for colorectal cancer, and pay attention to possible symptoms. The only proven way to prevent or cure colorectal cancer is by early detection through colonoscopy.
  • No matter who you are, your mother is still right: Eat your vegetables and get exercise! This and other studies continue to show strong evidence that regular physical activity and a diet high in vegetables and low in red meat are clearly linked to lower colorectal cancer risk.

SOURCES: Journal of Clinical Oncology, online on Feb. 14, 2011; Reuters Health; and

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