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Palliat Med. 2004 Jul;18(5):418-31.

Systematic review of bisphosphonates for hypercalcaemia of malignancy.

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  • 1Department of Palliative Medicine, Royal Marsden Hospital, London.



Bisphosphonates are the treatment of choice for hypercalcaemia of malignancy (HCM) but there is no consensus regarding which drug or dose should be given. We designed a systematic review to investigate the efficacy of bisphosphonates in the treatment of HCM.


We identified randomized controlled trials (RCTs) by searching electronic databases, scanning of reference lists, and consultation with experts and pharmaceutical companies. Foreign papers were translated. Inclusion criteria were RCTs, confirmed malignant disease and measurement of serum calcium (ionized or corrected for albumin) postrehydration. The primary outcome was number of patients achieving normocalcaemia. Secondary outcomes were time to normocalcaemia, time to relapse and toxicity.


Twenty-seven papers and two abstracts, using intravenous bisphosphonates, fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Data from 26 studies were used in analyses. Due to the heterogeneity of studies, meta-analysis could not be performed. Pamidronate was more effective than placebo, mithramycin, etidronate (7.5 mg/kg) and low-dose clodronate (600 mg), but equal to higher dose clodronate (1500 mg). Clodronate and etidronate were superior to placebo; incadronate was superior to elcatonin; gallium nitrate was superior to etidronate. No difference was seen between alendronate and clodronate. Three dose finding studies showed no difference between 30-90 mg of pamidronate, but one well designed study showed increasing efficacy with increasing dose. Studies using increasing doses of ibandronate (0.6-4 mg), alendronate (2.5-15 mg), and incadronate (2.5-10mg), showed a dose response. Duration of administration of pamidronate did not affect efficacy (six studies).


Bisphosphonates normalize calcium in >70% patients with minimal side effects. Aminobisphosphonates are most effective at maintaining normocalcaemia and should be given in high dose irrespective of baseline serum calcium.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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