A new study out of the U.K. has found that taking popular osteoporosis and bone drugs like Boniva (ibandronate), Fosamax (alendronate) and Actonel (risedronate), doubles a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer. Published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, the study confirms earlier anecdotal reports about the long-term dangers of taking oral bisphosphonates.
Researchers evaluated more than 15,000 people with various cancers and compared them to similar people without cancer. They discovered that people who received at least ten oral bisphosphonate prescriptions over the course of roughly five years were twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer than people who never took the drugs.
Besides increasing esophageal cancer risk, oral bisphosphonates also increase risk of stomach and bowel cancer.
According to Diane Wysowski, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drugs cause “several adverse esophageal events…including erosion and inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, esophageal stricture and perforation, and esophageal cancer.” However the agency has done nothing thus far to restrict the drugs from being prescribed, and continues to advise patients to use them with caution.
“Be sure to follow the directions for use and report to your doctor any difficulty swallowing or throat, chest, or digestive discomfort so that your doctor can evaluate the need for oral bisphosphonate discontinuation,” suggests Wysowski.
Other experts are advising doctors to take additional precautions when prescribing the medications to help reduce patient risk. And study researchers also plan to conduct further evaluations of the long-term risks and benefits of oral bisphosphonates to determine whether or not they are even safe or effective for use.