In what some have called one of the most important cancer research findings in the last decade, based on data from 19,000 women, researchers have discovered that a type of inexpensive drug which is currently unavailable for preventing secondary tumor growth in bone has been found to reduce breast cancer deaths by 18 percent.

The drugs, bisphosphonates, are commonly used to prevent osteoporosis bone loss, and the scientists behind the new study believe bisphosphonates starve cancer cells in the bone.

According to their research, women may benefit most from taking the drugs early in their treatment.

The research team looked at data from 26 separate trials of the drug, and found a 28% reduction in cancers for post-menopausal women, as well as an 18 percent reduction in death within 10 years of first diagnosis.

Breast cancer accounts for 25 percent of the cancers women develop. Worldwide, there are nearly 2 million new cases diagnosed yearly.

In the US, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, it is predicted, and this year around 230,000 new cases are expected, while 42,000 women are expected to die this year from the disease.

Bone is a frequent second host to the breast. Even when a tumor is removed from the breast, tiny cancer fragments can remain and spread, usually settling in bone where it can lie dormant for years.

Although the drug costs less than 10 cents per day, the scientists expressed concern that this low drug value will keep pharmaceutical companies from producing it. The drug is not in patent. This has caused cancer research advocates to call for new guidelines on the production of bisphosphonates.

The report, “Adjuvant bisphosphonate treatment in early breast cancer: meta-analyses of individual patient data from randomised trials,” was completed by the staff of the Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group (EBCTCG)

By Cheryl Bretton