Expert Discusses State of Bone-Targeted Therapy in Breast Cancer

Danielle Bucco
Published Online: Monday, Mar 27, 2017

Adam M. Brufsky, MD, PhD

Adam M. Brufsky, MD, PhD

Certain bone-targeted agents deserve more frequent use in oncology, although providers need to be mindful about patient conditions and the potential for osteonecrosis, said Adam M. Brufsky, MD, PhD, who provided an update on bone-targeted agents at the 2017 Miami Breast Cancer Conference.

Brufsky said denosumab (Xgeva) showed a disease-free survival benefit in postmenopausal women with early hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in the Austrian Breast and Colorectal Cancer Study Group-18 (ABCSG-18) trial. Denosumab was given to women who had received aromatase inhibitor (AI) therapy. From 2006 to 2013, the trial enrolled 3425 patients, of whom 3420 were randomly assigned to receive denosumab at 60 mg (n = 1711) or placebo (n = 1709) subcutaneously every 6 months. Denosumab reduced the rate of fracture in women by 50%, (HR, 0.50; P <.0001), compared with placebo.

Given the damage that adjuvant endocrine therapy can do to bone health in breast cancer patients, these findings may change clinical practice, said Brufsky, associate chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and co-director of the Comprehensive Breast Care Center, University of Pittsburgh.

The follow-up analysis of the benefits of adding denosumab to AI therapy showed that denosumab also reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death in postmenopausal women.

In an interview with OncLive, Brufsky discussed considerations for using the bone-targeted agents denosumab and zoledronic acid (Zometa) in patients with breast cancer.

OncLive: What is new in bone-targeted therapies?

Brufsky: Based on meta-analysis studies, there are a number of bone-targeted agents in the postmenopausal setting that have demonstrated a 3% improvement in overall survival in patients with breast cancer at 10 years. The real question is, why do we not use them? There are clearly good data available and the questions revolve around which one do we use, how frequently we use it, and for how long. In my opinion, anywhere from 2 to 5 years in the meta-analysis seems to be the right amount.

There are some randomized trials that seem to provide a disease-free survival benefit such as with denosumab, which is a little bit different than the bisphosphonates. The ABCSG-18 trial gave us a very nice result that we need to talk about as a group of breast cancer physicians. Hopefully, we’ll come to some sort of consensus as to how these drugs should be used.

What is the current standard of care for patients with bone metastases?

When managing the patient with bone metastases, there are a number of therapies to consider. If the patient is ER-positive, consider using estrogen-receptor therapy. If the patient is triple-negative, oncologists will most likely treat with chemotherapy. If the patient is HER2-positive, consider using a combination of trastuzumab (Herceptin) plus pertuzamab (Perjeta). But more importantly, oncologists should be using a bone-targeted agent, either denosumab or zoledronic acid.

An interesting trial (NCT00869206) that has come up recently and was just published, was a randomized trial performed by the Cancer and Leukemia Group B cooperative trial group. It concluded that giving zoledronic acid every 3 months was equivalent to giving it monthly for the management of metastatic bone disease. In fact, the interesting thing is that, in this trial, the event rate that was observed—bone-related complications like a fracture, or a pain, or need for radiation of bone—was equivalent in the less-frequent dose compared with the monthly dose.

That is a big deal, because now patients only have to receive the medication every 3 months and not monthly. This is helpful for the patient; however, when a woman has metastatic breast cancer, there are a lot of things you find in a monthly visit that you may not see in the 3-month visit. I think the potential loss of that monthly screening is something we need to consider because there are things that a patient can develop that can be prevented before they get worse.

For example, a patient could develop the beginning of a spinal cord compression or start to have a little bit of weakness in her legs. The oncologist can pick that up on a monthly visit and may miss it on a visit every 3 months. I think we are going to be moving to visits every 3 months, and it will be positive in some instances that women only have to receive treatment every 3 months. It is less costly, and probably less toxic, but the concern the oncologist has is with patient management.

What are the adverse events for these bone-targeted agents?

There are not a lot of adverse events, but I think the biggest one is renal insufficiency, which can occur if you give the drug too fast. A certain proportion of women with zoledronic acid can get achiness and febrile syndromes that last up to 1 week or even 2 weeks. That is uncommon but it can happen.


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Medical Crossfire®: Leveraging New Evidence in the Context of Evolving Early-Stage Treatment Standards in HER2-Positive Breast CancerJan 30, 20181.5
14th Annual School of Breast Oncology® OnlineFeb 10, 201825
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