Study: No esophageal cancer risk from bone drugs—August 11, 2010

( -- Popular bone drugs taken by millions of older people to prevent osteoporosis do not appear to raise the risk of cancer in the esophagus, as some doctors and patients have feared.

A study of more than 80,000 people, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found no measurable difference in the rates of esophageal cancer in people who did and did not take oral bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that fight age-related bone loss.

Oral bisphosphonates -- which include drugs such as Fosamax and Boniva -- can upset the stomach and cause acid reflux, although it helps to take the medication as directed. Chronic acid reflux can damage the esophagus and in rare cases can cause precancerous changes.

Linda Russell, M.D., a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City, calls the findings "encouraging."

Dr. Russell says she feels comfortable prescribing oral bisphosphonates to patients with acid reflux, although she generally switches to an intravenous version if their reflux worsens. "The important thing is if a patient needs treatment for osteoporosis, they should get it, because the risk of mortality from a hip fracture is high," she says.

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