September 9, 2010
by Jonathan Benson
A new study out of the U.K. has found that taking popular osteoporosis and bone drugs like Boniva (ibandronate), Fosamax (alendronate) and Actonel (risedronate), doubles a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer. Published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, the study confirms earlier anecdotal reports about the long-term dangers of taking oral bisphosphonates.
Researchers evaluated more than 15,000 people with various cancers and compared them to similar people without cancer. They discovered that people who received at least ten oral bisphosphonate prescriptions over the course of roughly five years were twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer than people who never took the drugs.
Besides increasing esophageal cancer risk, oral bisphosphonates also increase risk of stomach and bowel cancer.
According to Diane Wysowski, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drugs cause “several adverse esophageal events…including erosion and inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, esophageal stricture and perforation, and esophageal cancer.” However the agency has done nothing thus far to restrict the drugs from being prescribed, and continues to advise patients to use them with caution.
“Be sure to follow the directions for use and report to your doctor any difficulty swallowing or throat, chest, or digestive discomfort so that your doctor can evaluate the need for oral bisphosphonate discontinuation,” suggests Wysowski.
Other experts are advising doctors to take additional precautions when prescribing the medications to help reduce patient risk. And study researchers also plan to conduct further evaluations of the long-term risks and benefits of oral bisphosphonates to determine whether or not they are even safe or effective for use.
May 5, 2010
People who take aspirin regularly for a year or more may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease, according to a new study by the University of East Anglia.
Led by Dr Andrew Hart of UEA’s School of Medicine, the research will be presented for the first time at the Digestive Disease Week conference in New Orleans today.
Crohn’s disease is a serious condition affecting 60,000 people in the UK and 500,000 people in the US. It is characterized by inflammation and swelling of any part of the digestive system. This can lead to debilitating symptoms and requires patients to take life-long medication. Some patients need surgery and some sufferers have an increased risk of bowel cancer.
Though there are likely to be many causes of the disease, previous work on tissue samples has shown that aspirin can have a harmful effect on the bowel. To investigate this potential link further, the UEA team followed 200,000 volunteers aged 30-74 in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Italy. The volunteers had been recruited for the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) between 1993 and 1997.
The volunteers were all initially well, but by 2004 a small number had developed Crohn’s disease. When looking for differences in aspirin use between those who did and did not develop the disease, the researchers discovered that those taking aspirin regularly for a year or more were around five times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease.
The study also showed that aspirin use had no effect on the risk of developing ulcerative colitis – a condition similar to Crohn’s disease.
“This is early work but our findings do suggest that the regular use of aspirin could be one of many factors which influences the development of this distressing disease in some patients,” said Dr Hart.
“Aspirin does have many beneficial effects, however, including helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. I would urge aspirin users to continue taking this medication since the risk of aspirin users possibly developing Crohn’s disease remains very low – only one in every 2000 users, and the link is not yet finally proved.”
Further work must now be done in other populations to establish whether there is a definite link and to check that aspirin use is not just a marker of another risk factor which is the real cause of Crohn’s disease. The UEA team will also continue its wider research into other potential factors in the development of Crohn’s disease, including diet.
April 6, 2010
Treatment with a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid can shrink the number and size of precancerous polyps in people at high genetic risk of developing bowel cancer, British researchers say.
The study authors reported that the new treatment appears to work as well as a drug called celecoxib (Celebrex), which is prescribed for patients with bowel polyps linked to their genetic risk, but it doesn’t cause heart-related side effects.
The study, published online March 18 in the journal Gut, examined 55 patients with a high genetic risk of developing precancerous polyps in the bowel. The condition, known as familial adenomatous polyposis, puts people at much higher risk of developing bowel cancer and needing surgery.
The study participants were divided into two groups, with 28 receiving six months of treatment with daily 2-gram doses of a highly purified form of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, and the others receiving an inactive placebo.
Among those who took the placebo, the number of polyps grew by almost 10 percent, but it dropped by more than 12 percent among those who took the omega-3 capsules. The size of the polyps also increased among those in the placebo group, but decreased among those who took omega-3.
According to the researchers from St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds, U.K., omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are safe and have also been shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, so this treatment may be a particularly good choice for those at risk of both bowel cancer and heart disease.