Hypercalcaemia and hypocalcaemia: finding the balance

The balance between bone formation and resorption may be disrupted in patients with cancer, leading either to increased bone resorption, calcium release, and possibly hypercalcaemia, or to increased bone formation, sequestration of calcium, and possibly hypocalcaemia. In adults, hypercalcaemia of malignancy is most common in patients with tumours that produce factors that induce osteoclast activation and enhance bone resorption. Impaired renal function and increased renal tubular calcium resorption may further affect calcium levels.

Inhibitors of bone resorption, first the bisphosphonates and, later, denosumab, have been shown to be effective in hypercalcaemia treatment. Bisphosphonates (which are administered intravenously) are approved for hypercalcaemia of malignancy and are the current mainstay of treatment, whereas denosumab (which is administered subcutaneously) may offer an option for patients who do not respond to bisphosphonates or suffer from renal insufficiency.

TREATMENT AND PREVENTION: Hypocalcaemia is most common in patients with prostate cancer and osteoblastic bone metastases, but can occur in patients with a variety of tumour types who are receiving inhibitors of bone resorption. While patients often respond to calcium and vitamin D supplementation, prevention should be the aim; at-risk patients should be identified before starting treatment with inhibitors of bone resorption, be closely monitored during at least the first few months of treatment, and receive concomitant calcium and vitamin D supplementation unless hypercalcaemia is present.

Both hypercalcaemia and hypocalcaemia can be serious if left untreated. It is therefore important that patients with cancer are closely monitored and receive adequate prevention and treatment measures to maintain normal blood calcium levels.

Supportive care in cancer : official journal of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer. 2017 Jan 12 [Epub ahead of print]

Jean-Jacques Body, Daniela Niepel, Giuseppe Tonini

Department of Medicine (K1), CHU Brugmann (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Place Van Gehuchten, 1020, Brussels, Belgium. ., Amgen (Europe) GmbH, Vienna, Austria., Department of Oncology, Policlinico Universitario Campus Bio-Medico, Rome, Italy.