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New Treatment Plan Prevents Bone Loss in Breast Cancer Patients, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Study Finds

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 10, 2009 – Breast cancer patients who are being treated with a certain class of drugs may be able to prevent bone loss side effects by adding zoledronic acid to their treatment plan, according to a University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) study that is being presented today at the 2009 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Zoledronic acid works by binding tightly to the bone to prevent it from losing calcium, maintaining bone strength and helping to prevent fractures, explained Adam Brufsky, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of clinical investigations at UPCI, and director, Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

“We found zoledronic acid to be both safe and effective in preventing bone loss in postmenopausal women with breast cancer who are being treated with aromatase inhibitors,” said Dr. Brufsky. Aromatase inhibitors lower the presence of estrogen in the body to slow the growth of some cancers in postmenopausal women, but among the side effects of these drugs is an increased risk for osteoporosis.

The study included 602 postmenopausal women who were diagnosed with stage one, two or three estrogen or progesterone receptor-positive breast cancer. The participants were randomized to either immediate or delayed treatment with zoledronic acid. After five years, patients in the immediate treatment arm had a 6.2 percent increase in bone density while those in the delayed arm had a decrease of 2.4 percent.

Dr. Brufsky estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 breast cancer patients annually could benefit from this therapy.

This trial was sponsored by Novartis.

As the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, UPCI is a recognized leader in providing innovative cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment; bio-medical research; compassionate patient care and support; and community-based outreach services. UPCI investigators are world-renowned for their work in clinical and basic cancer research.

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