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Generic name: Zoledronic acid
Trade name: Zometa
Other names:

Drug type: Zoledronic acid is a type of bisphosphonate drug. Doctors use it to treat cancers affecting the bone, most commonly

  • Myeloma
  • Secondary breast cancer
  • Secondary prostate cancer

You may also have zoledronic acid to treat high levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcaemia), which can occur with secondary bone cancer.

Zoledronic acid is a clear liquid that goes into your vein as a drip (infusion). You have the drip through either a

  • Fine tube (cannula) in your arm
  • A central line
  • A PICC line

The drip usually lasts for about 15 minutes, but you may have it over a longer period.

You may have zoledronic acid

  • As a one off treatment to reduce calcium levels in your blood, or
  • Every 3 to 4 weeks as a treatment to prevent or reduce bone damage – you may need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements if you are having it regularly

We have listed the possible side effects of zoledronic acid below. There is general information about bisphosphonates in the cancer treatment section of CancerHelp UK.

Common side effects

Many people have one or more of these side effects

  • Flu like symptoms, including a fever, chills and headache affect about 1 in 10 (10%) people
  • Low levels of calcium in your blood (hypocalcaemia) – you will have blood tests to check the levels of calcium and other minerals such as potassium, phosphate and magnesium. A low calcium level can cause changes in sensation so you may have tingling or burning in your lips and tongue
  • Zoledronic acid may have a harmful effect on a developing baby. You should not become pregnant or father a child whilst taking it. Discuss contraception with your doctor before you start your treatment if there is any possibility that you or your partner could become pregnant

Occasional side effects

  • Feeling or being sick usually only lasts for a few days and can be controlled with anti-sickness drugs if needed
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bone pain – this may be worse when you first start treatment and you may need stronger painkillers until it improves
  • Stomach pain occurs in just under 1 in 10 people (10%)
  • Anaemia (a drop in the number of red blood cells)
  • Red and sore eyes (conjunctivitis) – you may need eye drops to soothe your eyes
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Mood changes – you may feel anxious or agitated while you are having this drug
  • Zoledronic acid can cause kidney damage – your doctor will take blood tests regularly to check how well your kidneys are working
  • Redness and pain at the injection site
  • Changes in blood pressure – during treatment, your blood pressure may be lower or higher than usual. Your nurse or doctor will check this regularly
  • Changes to your bowels – you may be constipated or have diarrhoea
  • Tiredness, drowsiness and dizziness

Rare side effects

  • Breathlessness and a cough
  • Osteonecrosis of the jaw can be a side effect of taking bisphosphonates for longer than a year – have a dental check up before you start treatment and tell your dentist that you are having zoledronic acid.

Important points to remember

The side effects above may be mild or more severe. A side effect may get better or worse through your course of treatment, or more side effects may develop as the course goes on. This depends on

  • How many times you've had the drug before
  • Your general health
  • The amount of the drug you have (the dose)
  • Other drugs you are having

Some side effects are inconvenient or upsetting but not damaging to your health.

Some side effects are serious medical conditions and need treating. Where we have urged you to contact your doctor, this is because

  • Your side effect may need treating
  • Your drug dose may need reducing to try to prevent the side effect

Tell your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbal supplements and other over the counter remedies – some drugs can react together.

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all your side effects so that they can help you manage them.

Your chemotherapy nurse, clinic or ward nurse will give you a contact number. You can ring if you have any questions or problems. They can give you advice or reassure you. If in doubt, call them.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 January 2010 10:04