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Bisphosphonate drugs for osteoporosis and cancer-related bone damage might have an added anticancer bonus: according to current research, these drugs may help prevent or fight cancers that are driven by the human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER). The good news for patients is that not only do bisphosphonates appear effective against certain cancers but they are also more affordable than many other therapies.

Bisphosphonates are drugs used to treat osteoporosis and cancerrelated bone complications. Examples include Fosamax® (alendronate), Boniva® (ibandronate), and Reclast® (zoledronic acid).

Researchers are now learning that bisphosphonates can help fight HERdriven cancers by preventing cancer cells’ HER receptors from working. They have found that bisphosphonates bind to cancer cells that are driven by or overexpress HER and, as a result, kill them. Cancers that are driven by HER include non–small cell breast, lung, and colorectal cancers.

These studies are “preclinical,” meaning they are very early stages of research—before the clinical trials process. As a result, it is too soon to say for certain that these bone drugs can help prevent and fight HER-driven cancers. But if further study confirms that bisphosphonates are effective against these cancers, we could have a new therapy for HER-driven breast, lung, and colorectal cancers.

In the meantime, if you are currently taking bisphosphonates for osteoporosis or cancer-related bone complications, there is a reasonable chance that these drugs are lowering your risk of certain cancers.

—Mia James


Yuen T, Stachnik A, Iqbal J, et al. Bisphosphonates inactivate human EGFRs to exert antitumor actions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2014;111(50):17989-94. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1421410111.

Stachnik A, Yuen T, Iqbal J, et al. Repurposing of bisphosphonates for the prevention and therapy of nonsmall cell lung and breast cancer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.