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Cancer-Fighting Bone Drugs Might Raise Stroke Risk
Date:10/12/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that cancer patients treated with bisphosphonate drugs such as Aredia or Zometa to reduce or delay bone complications from cancer may be at higher risk for the irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation and for a related event, stroke.

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart beat chaotically, causing blood to pool and increasing the potential of clots, stroke, heart failure and death.

However, the bump up in risk with bisphosphonates was "relatively modest," said Dr. James Goodwin, senior author of a paper appearing online Oct. 12 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

At relatively low doses, bisphosphonates have been widely used for about three decades to treat osteoporosis, mainly in older women.

Then, "in the 1990s, it was discovered that they had a rather miraculous effect in terms of either treating or preventing metastases to bones from certain cancers," noted Goodwin, director of the Sealy Center on Aging at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Bisphosphonates are also used to reduce pain by slowing the bone destruction caused by cancer that has spread to the bone.

"These are expensive drugs -- several thousand dollars per injection -- but they do have a benefit of preventing bone loss and decreasing the number of bone fractures in people with cancer, which is very significant," added one expert, Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Clinic Foundation in Baton Rouge, La. "If you break a femur or a hip with metastatic cancer, it's devastating to you."

This new use for the drugs came with certain challenges, however. Cancer patients take bisphosphonates such as Aredia (pamidronate) or Zometa (zoledronic acid) intravenously at doses ten times higher than non-cancer patients, who typically take the drug as a pill.

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