The adverse effects of bisphosphonates in breast cancer: A systematic review and network meta-analysis.
BACKGROUND: Bisphosphonate drugs can be used to improve the outcomes of women with breast cancer. Whilst many meta-analyses have quantified their potential benefits for patients, attempts at comprehensive quantification of potential adverse effects have been limited. We undertook a meta-analysis with novel methodology to identify and quantify these adverse effects. METHODS: We systematically reviewed randomised controlled trials in breast cancer where at least one of the treatments was a bisphosphonate (zoledronic acid, ibandronate, pamidronate, alendronate or clodronate). Neoadjuvant, adjuvant and metastatic settings were examined. Primary outcomes were adverse events of any type or severity (excluding death). We carried out pairwise and network meta-analyses to estimate the size of any adverse effects potentially related to bisphosphonates. In order to ascertain whether adverse effects differed by individual factors such as age, or interacted with other common adjuvant breast cancer treatments, we examined individual-level patient data for one large trial, AZURE. FINDINGS: We identified 56 trials that reported adverse data, which included a total of 29,248 patients (18,301 receiving bisphosphonate drugs versus 10,947 not). 24 out of the 103 different adverse outcomes analysed showed a statistically and practically significant increase in patients receiving a bisphosphonate drug compared with those not (2 additional outcomes that appeared statistically significant came only from small studies with low event counts and no clinical suspicion so are likely artifacts). Most of these 24 are already clinically recognised: 'flu-like symptoms, fever, headache and chills; increased bone pain, arthralgia, myalgia, back pain; cardiac events, thromboembolic events; hypocalcaemia and osteonecrosis of the jaw; as well as possibly stiffness and nausea. Oral clodronate appeared to increase the risk of vomiting and diarrhoea (which may also be increased by other bisphosphonates), and there may be some hepatotoxicity. Four additional potential adverse effects emerged for bisphosphonate drugs in this analysis which have not classically be recognised: fatigue, neurosensory problems, hypertonia/muscle spasms and possibly dysgeusia. Several symptoms previously reported as potential side effects in the literature were not significantly increased in this analysis: constipation, insomnia, respiratory problems, oedema or thirst/dry mouth. Individual patient-level data and subgroup analysis revealed little variation in side effects between women of different ages or menopausal status, those with metastatic versus non-metastatic cancer, or between women receiving different concurrent breast cancer therapies. CONCLUSIONS: This meta-analysis has produced estimates for the absolute frequencies of a range of side effects significantly associated with bisphosphonate drugs when used by breast cancer patients. These results show good agreement with previous literature on the subject but are the first systematic quantification of side effects and their severities. However, the analysis is limited by the availability and quality of data on adverse events, and the potential for bias introduced by a lack of standards for reporting of such events. We therefore present a table of adverse effects for bisphosphonates, identified and quantified to the best of our ability from a large number of trials, which we hope can be used to improve the communication of the potential harms of these drugs to patients and their healthcare providers.