Intravenous bisphosphonate (BP) therapy has become the standard of care for the treatment of cancers that metastasize to bone. BPs are associated with osteonecrosis of alveolar bones, a condition known as osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). The incidence or pathogenesis of ONJ is largely unknown. The lesions are characterized by areas of exposed necrotic bone that do not heal after 8 weeks in the absence of radiation to the head and neck. ONJ lesions have been recalcitrant to conventional therapies. Lesions in cancer patients treated with BPs develop in association with periodontal disease, tooth extraction and/or in association with increased mechanical force due to partial/complete dentures. We hypothesized that intravenous BPs in cancer patients impair normal bone remodeling, thereby increasing the incidence of osteonecrotic lesions and that these lesions can be detected using cone beam computerized tomography (CBCT). From CBCTs taken at the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Dentistry, 26 subjects had a cancer diagnosis and were on BP therapy. From these 26 subjects, 18 presented visible, exposed necrotic bone. We observed both sclerotic and radiolucent lesions. Lesions could be detected and measured in reconstructed images where most were found to expand to large areas of the bone. We were able to identify necrotic bodies or 'involucrums' within the ONJ lesions, suggesting that this could be the mechanism for the formation of a clinically visible sequestrum. We propose that CBCT can potentially identify and follow the progression of both pre- and postclinical lesions in ONJ patients, allowing better diagnosis and assessment of disease status.
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