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How can some osteoporosis drugs help fight cancer?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you're taking one of the bone-building drugs called bisphosphonates -- given to many women to combat osteoporosis triggered by menopause -- you've cut your risk of endometrial cancer by more than half.

Bisphosphonates also slice your threat of colon cancer almost in half and reduce your breast cancer risk by about a third. Pretty nifty side effects.

How come? In the process of strengthening bones, bisphosphonates make a mess out of what's called a cancer "pathway," inhibiting cell growth in some tumors.

Bone breaks and hip fractures can be life-threatening, and bisphosphonates aren't perfect. For example, if you don't sit or stand for 30 minutes after taking them, they can cause intense heartburn and nausea. Also, long-term use can, ironically, increase certain unusual fractures (this is why doctors may advise an occasional "drug holiday"). Still, any bone-building drug that has cancer-fighting side effects --who's gonna knock that?!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.