Bisphosphonates are drugs that in certain situations can help to protect your bones against some of the effects of cancer, such as pain and weakness.

What are bisphosphonates?

Bisphosphonates are drugs that help to strengthen bones and reduce the risk of a bone breaking (fracture). They can help relieve bone pain and may be used to treat high levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcaemia).

You may have this type of drug:

There are different types of bisphosphonates. We have more information about the most common types below. The one you have will depend on your general health and the type of cancer you have.

Zoledronic acid

Zoledronic acid is a type of bisphosphate that is given by a drip (infusion). It can be used to:

  • help protect the bones from the effects of some treatments for early breast cancer
  • reduce the risk of early breast cancer coming back – this is called adjuvant treatment
  • educe a raised calcium level in the blood caused by cancer that has spread to the bones
  • treat bone weakness or pain caused by myeloma or by breast cancer that has spread to the bones.

Pamidronate

Pamidronate (Aredia®) is a type of bisphosphate that is given by a drip (infusion). It can be used to treat:

  • high levels of calcium in the blood caused by cancer that has spread to the bones
  • bone weakness or pain caused by myeloma or by breast cancer that has spread to the bones.

Ibandronic acid

Ibandronic acid is a type of bisphosphate that is given by drip (infusion) or as a tablet. It can be used to treat:

  • high levels of calcium in the blood caused by cancer that has spread to the bones
  • bone weakness or pain caused by breast cancer that has spread to the bones.

Clodronate

Clodronate is a type of bisphosphate that you take as capsules or tablets. It can be used to treat:

  • high levels of calcium in the blood caused by cancer that has spread to the bones
  • bone weakness or pain caused by myeloma or breast cancer that has spread to the bones.

Bisphosphonates side effects

Bisphosphonate side effects are usually mild. They include indigestion and feeling sick (nausea) and flu-like symptoms after a bisphosphonate drip. Rarely, bisphosphonates can cause damage to the jaw bone. If you have not seen a dentist for 6 months, or if you have dentures that do not fit well, you should see your dentist before taking bisphosphonates.