Osteoporosis Drugs: Why Avoiding it could save your life

Yet Another Reason to Avoid Osteoporosis Drugs

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Between October 1995 and May 2008, the FDA received 23 reports of esophageal cancer possibly linked to the use of the osteoporosis drug Fosamax.

For most victims, only about two years passed between the time they started taking Fosamax and the time they were diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Most of the victims were women with a mean age of 72.

In the same time period in Europe, 21 people taking Fosamax and another 10 taking a different product from the same family of drugs (bisphosphonates) reported developing esophageal cancer.

The cancer diagnosis came after only 1.3 years, and 22 victims were women with a mean age of 69. Serious esophageal inflammation is a well-known side effect of bisphosphonates, which is why people are directed to drink a whole glass of water with the pill and sit upright for at least an hour afterward.

Biopsies of inflamed esophageal tissue in people who took bisphosphonates have revealed microscopic shards that resemble the crystals seen in the ground-up tablets embedded in the tissues (New England Journal of Medicine)

My Views On This Drug

In the short market life of bisphosphonates (14 years), this isn't the first time these drugs have come under fire. They have already been linked to osteonecrosis of the jaw, in which bone tissue in the jaw dies and rots, especially when dental procedures are needed after starting on these drugs.

Even worse, studies suggest that 11 years after taking bisphosphonates, the levels of these drugs in the body are reduced by only half (Volume 2, 2005, Clinical Drug Investigation). This and for many other reasons I do not rush to prescribe patients for drug treatments especially medications that have not been around for case studies and enough research.

I would not be surprised if the real incidence of bisphosphonate-associated esophageal cancer is much higher since the FDA only knows about the cases reported to the agency. Since many physicians have the attitude that cancer is common and even "expected" in older patients, when cancer is diagnosed in this population, the real cause (other than age) is usually not explored.

Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical companies that sell bisphosphonates have quickly grabbed this excuse.

I suggest that you follow a holistic approach to bone health and preservation.  I will write more about this at another time.

Dr Susan

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