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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD002068.

Bisphosphonates for the relief of pain secondary to bone metastases.

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Radiation Oncology, Princess Margaret Hospital, 5th Floor, 610 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5G 2M9.



Bisphosphonates form part of standard therapy for hypercalcemia and the prevention of skeletal events in some cancers. However, the role of bisphosphonates in pain relief for bony metastases remains uncertain.


To determine the effectiveness of bisphosphonates for the relief of pain from bone metastases.


MEDLINE (1966-1999), EMBASE (1980-1999), CancerLit (1966-1999), the Cochrane library (Issue 1, 2000) and the Oxford Pain Database were searched using the strategy devised by the Cochrane Pain, Palliative and Supportive Care Group with additional terms 'diphosphonate', 'bisphosphonate', 'multiple myeloma' and 'bone neoplasms'. (Last search: January 2000).


Randomized trials of bisphosphonates compared with open, blinded, or different doses/types of bisphosphonates in cancer patients were included where pain and/or analgesic consumption were outcome measures. Studies where pain was reported only by observers were excluded.


Article eligibility, quality assessment and data extraction were undertaken by both reviewers. The proportions of patients with pain relief at 4, 8 and 12 weeks were assessed. The proportion of patients with analgesic reduction, the mean pain score, mean analgesic consumption, adverse drug reactions, and quality of life data were compared as secondary outcomes.


Thirty randomized controlled studies (21 blinded, four open and five active control) with a total of 3682 subjects were included. For each outcome, there were few studies with available data. For the proportion of patients with pain relief (eight studies) pooled data showed benefits for the treatment group, with an NNT at 4 weeks of 11[95% CI 6-36] and at 12 weeks of 7 [95% CI 5-12]. In terms of adverse drug reactions, the NNH was 16 [95% CI 12-27] for discontinuation of therapy. Nausea and vomiting were reported in 24 studies with a non-significant trend for greater risk in the treatment group. One study showed a small improvement in quality of life for the treatment group at 4 weeks. The small number of studies in each subgroup with relevant data limited our ability to explore the most effective bisphosphonates and their relative effectiveness for different primary neoplasms.


There is evidence to support the effectiveness of bisphosphonates in providing some pain relief for bone metastases. There is insufficient evidence to recommend bisphosphonates for immediate effect; as first line therapy; to define the most effective bisphosphonates or their relative effectiveness for different primary neoplasms. Bisphosphonates should be considered where analgesics and/or radiotherapy are inadequate for the management of painful bone metastases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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