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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Osteoporosis Drugs May Be Linked to Cancer Risk

Study Shows Some Increased Risk of Esophageal Cancer From Oral Bisphosphonates

Researcher: 'Two Studies Aren't Contradictory'

The analysis revealed a near doubling of esophageal cancer risk with five years or more of bisphosphonate use. No increase in stomach or colorectal cancers were seen.

Based on their findings, the researchers estimate that two cases of esophageal cancer could be expected among 1,000 long-term bisphosphonate users over five years, compared to one case in five years among 1,000 non-users.

The study by Green and colleagues followed patients for nearly twice as long and had more statistical power than the previously reported study.

"When you look at the longest-term users in that study, the findings were comparable to ours," she says.

FDA epidemiologist Diane K. Wysowski, PhD, who first reported the 23 esophageal cancer cases among Fosamax users in the U.S., says doctors should consider the risks and benefits for individual patients before prescribing the drugs. This is especially true for patients with digestive problems.

In an editorial published with the study, Wysowski revealed that 34 cases of esophageal cancer associated with bisphosphonate use have now been reported to the FDA.

In a written reply to WebMD, Wysowski noted that patients who take bisphosphonates should make sure they take the drugs as directed, first thing in the morning with a full glass of water at least 30 minutes to an hour before eating, drinking anything other than water, or taking other medications.

She added that patients who experience difficulty swallowing, chest pain, or new or worsening heartburn after taking the medications should seek medical attention.

In a written statement to WebMD, a spokesperson for Fosamax manufacturer Merck noted that the company's postmarketing research "do not suggest any association between alendronate and esophageal cancer."

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