Bone drug that costs five pence a day could cut breast cancer deaths, indicates study

Mammo breast cancer. Licenced under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
A mammogram showing cancer of the breast.

A study has found that a drug that costs just five pence per day appears to slow or stop the spread of secondary breast cancer.

The findings, published in medical journal The Lancet, were based on 18,766 individuals who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergone treatment.

Biophosphonates are currently used to prevent bone loss in osteoporosis sufferers but is also prescribed for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer of the bone.

Analysis of the findings of 26 different trials by the Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group, co-ordinated by the University of Oxford, found that early intervention with the drug, for example following surgery to remove a tumour, resulted in a 28% reduction in cancer spreading to the bone in post-menopausal patients. Deaths among this group were cut by 18% in the decade following diagnosis – meaning that the drug has the potential to save around 1000 lives each year.

However, despite the drug costing so little, it is not currently licensed for use in breast cancer patients. Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, says:

“This hotly-awaited, comprehensive study reveals that bisphosphonates could potentially save the lives of around 1,000 women each year in the UK alone, by reducing the risk of their breast cancer spreading. We believe that this is one of the most important steps forward in breast cancer treatment since the introduction of Herceptin over 10 years ago, but this time we’re talking about a few pence rather than thousands of pounds, and millions saved by the NHS.

“However, despite costing less than five pence a day per patient, there’s no commercial incentive for a pharmaceutical company to license these drugs for this new use as they are out of patent and therefore less likely to turn a profit. This treatment therefore runs the risk of ‘sitting on the shelf’, and not realising its full benefit for the 34,000 women who could be eligible to take it each year.

“That’s why we want to see the governments and the regulatory bodies across the devolved nations, and the NHS make it a priority to look at ways in which they can support the routine availability of these low-cost, life-saving treatments.”

According to Cancer Research UK, 50,000 women are newly-diagnosed with breast cancer and 11,000 women die from the disease each year, however with advances in treatment and early detection 78% of women now survive for 10 or more years beyond their initial diagnosis.

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