Breast Cancer Overview

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Treating Breast Cancer TOPICS

Bone-directed therapy for breast cancer

When cancer spreads to the bones, it can weaken them and even lead to the bones breaking. The cancer in the bone can also cause pain. Drugs like bisphosphonates and denosumab can help prevent those problems.

The bisphosphonate drugs most often used to treat breast cancer that has spread to bone are pamidronate (Aredia®) and zoledronic acid (Zometa®). Both of these drugs are given into a vein (IV), often once a month.

Denosumab (Xgeva®, Prolia®) is another drug that can be used to help reduce the risk of problems from breast cancer that has spread to the bone. It works differently than bisphosphonates and is given as an injection under the skin, once a month.

Side effects of these drugs can include low blood levels of calcium and phosphate. These drugs can also rarely cause serious damage to the jaw bone. It often appears as an open sore in the jaw that won't heal. It can be triggered by having a tooth pulled while being treated with one of these drugs, so your doctor will likely recommend that you have a dental check-up and have any tooth or jaw problems treated before you start treatment. Bisphosphonates can also cause kidney damage and can’t be taken if you have kidney problems.


Last Medical Review: 09/09/2014
Last Revised: 09/09/2014