Background: Bisphosphonates are effective against the increased bone resorption caused by certain diseases because they inhibit the activity of osteoclasts. In patients who have breast cancer and metastatic bone disease, the bisphosphonate clodronate (clodronic acid) reduces the frequency of skeletal complications. Experiments in animals and preliminary clinical observations indicate that early clodronate therapy reduces the incidence of new bony metastases in breast cancer. We investigated the effects of clodronate on the incidence and extent of new metastases in patients with breast cancer.
Methods: Between 1990 and 1995, 302 patients with primary breast cancer and tumor cells in the bone marrow (the presence of which is a risk factor for the development of distant metastases) were randomly assigned to receive clodronate at a dose of 1600 mg per day orally for two years (157 patients) or standard follow-up (145 patients). The median length of observation was 36 months. All patients in both groups received standard surgical treatment and customary hormonal therapy or chemotherapy.
Results: Distant metastases were detected in 21 patients in the clodronate group and in 42 patients in the control group (P<0.001). The incidence of both osseous and visceral metastases was significantly lower in the clodronate group than in the control group (P=0.003 for both osseous and visceral metastases). Six patients in the clodronate group died, as did 22 in the control group (P=0.001). The mean number of bony metastases per patient in the clodronate group was roughly half that in the control group (3.1 vs. 6.3).
Conclusions: Clodronate can reduce the incidence and number of new bony and visceral metastases in women with breast cancer who are at high risk for distant metastases.