Osteoporosis Drugs May Extend Life After Fracture

Miriam E. Tucker

March 24, 2023

Long-term osteoporosis medications are associated with a reduced mortality risk following a fracture, new data suggest.

The findings, from nearly 50,000 individuals in a nationwide Taiwanese database from 2009 until 2018, suggest that alendronate/risedronate, denosumab, and zoledronic acid all result in a significantly lower risk for death post-fracture of 17% to 22%, compared with raloxifene and bazedoxifene.

"Treatment for osteoporosis has the potential to minimize mortality risk in people of all ages and sexes for any type of fracture. The longer-acting treatments could lower mortality risk," write Chih-Hsing Wu, MD, of the Institute of Gerontology at National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan, and colleagues.

The findings have been published online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Robert A. Adler, MD, who is chief of endocrinology at the Central Virginia Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Richmond, told Medscape Medical News he hopes these new findings from a "really good database...may be helpful in talking to a patient about the pros and cons of taking these drugs."

"Patients have been made very fearful of the unusual side effects, particularly of the antiresorptive drugs," which he notes include the rare adverse effects of jaw necrosis and atypical femoral fracture, which only occur in about 1 per 10,000 patient-years.

"And because of that we have a hard time convincing people to want to take the drug in the first place or to stay on the drug once they start," said Adler, who stressed that his viewpoints are his own and not representative of the VA.

"These data should help reinforce the advice already given in professional guidelines that their benefit outweighs any risks," he stresses.

Adler also pointed out that both bisphosphonates included in the study, alendronate and zoledronic acid, are now available as generics and therefore inexpensive, but that the latter can be subject to facility fees depending on where the infusion is delivered.

He added that hip fracture, in particular, triples the overall 1-year mortality risk in women aged 75-84 years and quadruples the risk in men. The study's findings suggest that bisphosphonates, in particular, have pleiotropic effects beyond the bone; however, the underlying mechanisms are hard to determine.

"We don't know all the reasons why people die after a fracture. These are older people who often have multiple medical problems, so it's hard to dissect that out," he said.

But whatever the mechanism for the salutary effect of the drugs, Adler said: "This is one other factor that might change people's minds. You're less likely to die. Well, that's pretty good."

"Denosumab Is a More Potent Antiresorptive Than Bisphosphonates"

Wu and colleagues analyzed data for individuals from Taiwan's National Health Insurance Research Database. Between 2009 and 2017, 219,461 individuals had been newly diagnosed with an osteoporotic fracture. Of those, 46,729 were aged 40 and older and had been prescribed at least one anti-osteoporosis medication.

Participants were a mean age of 74.5 years, were 80% women, and 32% died during a mean follow-up of 4.7 years. The most commonly used anti-osteoporosis medications were the bisphosphonates alendronate or risedronate, followed by denosumab and the selective estrogen-receptor modulators (SERMs) daily oral raloxifene or bazedoxifene.

Patients treated with SERMs were used as the reference group because those drugs have been shown to have a neutral effect on mortality.

After adjustments, all but one of the medications had significantly lower mortality risks during follow-up compared with raloxifene and bazedoxifene.

Compared with SERMs, at all fracture sites, the hazard ratios for mortality were 0.83 for alendronate/risedronate, 0.86 for denosumab, and 0.78 for zoledronic acid. Only ibandronate did not show the same protective effect.

Similar results were found for hip and vertebral fractures analyzed individually.  

Women had a lower mortality risk than men.

Adler wrote an accompanying editorial for the article by Wu and colleagues.

Regarding the finding of benefit for denosumab, Adler notes: "I don't know of another study that found denosumab leads to lower mortality. On the other hand, denosumab is a more potent antiresorptive than bisphosphonates."

The study was funded by research grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan, partially supported by a research grant from the Taiwanese Osteoporosis Association and grants from National Cheng Kung University Hospital, Taiwan. Wu has reported receiving honoraria for lectures, attending meetings, and/or travel from Eli Lilly, Roche, Amgen, Merck, Servier, GE Lunar, Harvester, TCM Biotech, and Alvogen/Lotus. Adler has reported no relevant financial relationships.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2023;108:e48–e49, 827-833. Abstract, Editorial

Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, DC, area. She is a regular contributor to Medscape, with other work appearing in The Washington Post, NPR's Shots blog, and Diabetes Forecast magazine. She is on Twitter: @MiriamETucker.

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