Metastatic bone disease develops as a result of the many interactions between tumour cells and bone cells. This leads to disruption of normal bone metabolism, with the increased osteoclast activity seen in most, if not all, tumour types providing a rational target for treatment. The clinical course of metastatic bone disease in multiple myeloma, breast and prostate cancers is relatively long, with patients experiencing sequential skeletal complications over a period of several years. These include bone pain, fractures, hypercalcaemia and spinal cord compression, all of which may profoundly impair a patient's quality of life. External beam radiotherapy and systemic endocrine and cytotoxic treatments are the mainstay of treatment in advanced cancers. However, it is now clear that the bisphosphonates provide an additional treatment strategy, which reduces both the symptoms and complications of bone involvement. Ongoing research is aimed at trying to define the optimum route, dose, schedule and type of bisphosphonate in metastatic bone disease and in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in cancer patients. In vitro suggestions of direct anticancer activity and some promising clinical data in early breast cancer have resulted in considerable interest in the possible adjuvant use of bisphosphonates to inhibit the development of bone metastases.
Copyright 2001 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.