Osteoporosis drug protects bones from breast cancer

"The reality of living with secondary breast cancer in the bone is a stark one, which leaves many women with bone pain and fractures that need extensive surgery just when they need to be making the most of the time they have left with friends and family," says Katherine Woods, a senior research communications manager at Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. (Credit: aurora chiste/Flickr)

When breast cancer spreads, it often shows up in bone. But a drug used to treat osteoporosis appears to stop the spread, according to tests in mice.

“Once cancer spreads to the bone it is very difficult to treat,” says Janine Erler, an associate professor at the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre at the University of Copenhagen and co-leader of the study. “Our research has shed light on the way breast cancer cells prime the bone so it is ready for their arrival.

“If we were able to block this process and translate our work to the clinic, we could stop breast cancer in its tracks thereby extending patients’ lives.”

Researchers identified an enzyme (LysYl Oxidase or LOX) that is released from the primary breast tumor that causes holes in bone—and primes the bone for cancer cells.


Treatment with the osteoporosis drug bisphosphonate, which prevents loss of bone mass, seems to stop the holes from developing. The findings appear in the journal Nature.

Alison Gartland of the University of Sheffield’s human metabolism department, who co-led the study, says the findings could help increase the chances of survival for thousands of patients.

“The next step is to find out exactly how the tumor-secreted LOX interacts with bone cells to be able to develop new drugs to stop the formation of the bone lesions and cancer metastasis. This could also have implications for how we treat other bone diseases, too.”

The Breast Cancer Campaign, Cancer Research UK, Novo Nordisk Foundation, Danish Cancer Society, Lundbeck Foundation, along with both universities, provided support for the study.

Source: University of Sheffield