JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Current management strategies for hypercalcemia

Martin Pecherstorfer, Karin Brenner, Niklas Zojer
Treatments in Endocrinology 2003, 2 (4): 273-92
15966562
The two most common causes of hypercalcemia are primary hyperparathyroidism and neoplastic disease. Parathyroidectomy is the only curative intervention for the former condition. In the rare cases of patients with primary hyperparathyroidism who present with clinical symptoms due to their hypercalcemia, pharmacological treatment may be required. Fluid repletion and intravenous (IV) administration of bisphosphonates are recommended in the literature. Calcium receptor agonists (calcimimetic agents) are at the present time only available for use within clinical trials. Cancer patients usually present with symptoms of hypercalcemia. Rapid institution of antihypercalcemic treatment is essential in preventing life-threatening deterioration. Fluid repletion and administration of bisphosphonates are the treatment mainstays in hypercalcemia of malignancy. Five bisphosphonates are currently licensed in Europe for treatment of tumor-associated hypercalcemia: etidronate, clodronate, pamidronate, ibandronate, and zoledronate. In the US, pamidronate and zoledronate are licensed for use in this indication. Bisphosphonates containing nitrogen atoms (e.g. pamidronate, ibandronate, and zoledronate) are more potent than those without (e.g. etidronate, clodronate, and tiludronate). In patients with malignant hypercalcemia, the efficacy of the individual bisphosphonate depends on dose administered and initial serum calcium concentration. At present, pamidronate has been studied in the greatest number of investigations and in the largest number of patients. In the literature, the efficacy of pamidronate in restoring normocalcemia ranges between 40% and 100%, depending on the dose used and baseline serum calcium concentration. More recently, one study reported that pamidronate was inferior to zoledronate. In this study, the duration of response was also longer in the two zoledronate groups (30 and 40 days) than in the pamidronate group (17 days). The most serious adverse events of bisphosphonates concern renal function. Increases in serum creatinine levels have been more frequently reported following treatment of tumor-associated hypercalcemia with etidronate (8%) and clodronate (5%) than with the nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates pamidronate (2%) and ibandronate (1%). The frequency of increases in serum creatinine levels following treatment with zoledronate is difficult to estimate. Administration of the nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates has been associated with transient (usually mild) fever, lymphocytopenia, malaise, and myalgias. These events occur within 36 hours of the first dose and are self-limiting. Hypocalcemia occurs in up to 50% of patients treated with bisphosphonates for hypercalcemia of malignancy, although symptomatic hypocalcemia is rare. The toxicity and low efficacy of plicamycin (mithramycin) mean that use of this agent should be restricted to patients with hypercalcemia of malignancy who fail to respond to IV bisphosphonates. Calcitonin is characterized by good tolerability but poor efficacy in normalizing the serum calcium level. However, a major advantage of calcitonin is the acute onset of the hypocalcemic effect, which contrasts with the delayed but more pronounced effect of bisphosphonates. Combination calcitonin and bisphosphonate treatment may therefore be of value when rapid reduction of serum calcium is warranted. Gallium nitrate may be a valuable treatment for hypercalcemia of malignancy. It is characterized by high efficacy and few adverse events apart from renal toxicity (10% of cases). However, data are very limited and further trials are necessary.

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