Researchers Able to Predict Which Breast Cancer Patients Are at Highest Risk of Bone Metastases

February 1, 2001

For the first time, researchers believe they may be able to predict which breast cancer patients are at high risk of developing bone metastases. By identifying these patients, researchers say drugs now used to treat bone cancer may also prove useful in

For the first time, researchers believe they may beable to predict which breast cancer patients are athigh risk of developing bone metastases. By identifying these patients,researchers say drugs now used to treat bone cancer may also prove useful inpreventing the development of such metastases in susceptible patients.Researchers are calling for studies to see if these drugs—bisphosphonates inaddition to antineoplastic treatments—can help prevent the complication.

"It’s crucial to study further the effects ofbisphosphonates in this group of patients, in order to offer them everyadvantage," said study leader Marco Colleoni, MD, of the European Instituteof Oncology in Milan, Italy. "Treatments to prevent bone metastases mayhave a major impact on the course of breast cancer." Patients with knownbone metastases are often treated with bisphosphonates, and randomized trialshave demonstrated significant benefit in this group of women.

Two Distinct Groups at Highest Risk

Many patients develop bone metastases, but to date, physicianshave not been able to predict which patients are at high risk. To help definethe characteristics of patients most at risk, a worldwide group of researcherscontributed data on 6,792 breast cancer patients. The data were then analyzed bythe International Breast Cancer Study Group.

Overall, 27% of the patients in the study developed bonemetastasis. However, the incidence was much higher in two large and distinctgroups. In a group of 2,163 patients in whom cancer was found in four or morelymph nodes at the time of diagnosis, over 40% had developed bone metastases inthe 10 years following initial treatment of their breast cancer.

In a group of 1,220 patients in whom cancer first reappearedafter treatment in their lymph nodes, skin, or chest tissue, the risk ofdeveloping subsequent bone metastasis was four times higher than in the otherpatients. At 10 years following their initial diagnosis of cancer, bonemetastasis was found in more than 36% of these patients, compared to 27% amongall women enrolled in the study.