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Bone Drug Fails in Breast Cancer Study

Zometa Didn't Prevent Breast Cancer From Coming Back
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 9, 2010 (San Antonio) -- The bone-building drug Zometa does not appear to prevent breast cancer from coming back in most women, researchers report.

Adding Zometa to standard therapy, usually chemotherapy, also did not extend lives, according to results of the study of more than 3,000 women.

In women who were at least five years past menopause, however, the addition of Zometa improved overall survival rates by 29%, compared with standard treatment alone.

"This wasn't a small subgroup; 1,101 women fell into the category," says Robert Coleman, MD, professor of medical oncology at the University of Sheffield in England.

"The benefit was so great we don't think it's a chance finding," he tells WebMD.
Still, the results of a subgroup analysis cannot be considered conclusive, Coleman says.

Based on the findings, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drug and funded the study, will withdraw U.S. and European applications for approval of Zometa to prevent breast cancer recurrences.

Coleman presented findings of the study, dubbed AZURE, at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Earlier Studies Raise Hopes

Zometa, given as an infusion, is a member of a class of drugs called bisphosphonates that help maintain bone strength.

Animal and lab research suggests that bisphosphonates may fight breast cancer in a number of ways -- by directly killing tumor cells, by cutting off their blood supply, or by stimulating the immune system to mount an attack against the tumor, says Rowan Chlebowski, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at Harbor-University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center.

The new research builds on a study presented at the 2008 breast cancer meeting showing that Zometa appears to prevent breast cancer from coming back.

Then, last year, Chlebowski presented an analysis of data on more than 150,000 women that showed that there were 31% fewer cases of breast cancer among women who took bisphosphonate pills than among women who didn't.  

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