Breast Cancer Treatment and Your Bones

Health Monitor Staff
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When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important to be mindful of your bone health. That’s because some drugs can cause bone loss and lead to osteoporosis.

Not only can that result in long-term pain and disability, it can also disrupt your cancer treatment. Fortunately, by knowing your risk factors and arming yourself with the right knowledge, you can take steps toward preserving your bone health today.

Treatments that may cause bone loss include:

Chemotherapy: Some chemo drugs can decrease calcium levels in the body. They can also trigger premature menopause, causing a drop in levels of bone-protective estrogen.

Hormone therapy: Hormone therapies such as antiestrogens and aromatase inhibitors suppress the production of bone-protective estrogen, leading to bone loss and increased fracture risk.  

Ovarian suppression/removal: Shuts down the ovaries to stop them from making estrogen, slowing the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in premenopausal women. Ovary removal causes irreversible menopause. Your bone density may drop suddenly after ovaries are removed.

You can protect your bones by…

  • Getting a bone density scan. This painless exam measures the strength of your bones and is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before you break a bone. Ask your healthcare provider if a bone scan would benefit you.
  • Asking if medication is right for you. Many treatments are available that can boost your bone health. For example, bisphosphonates and denosumab are powerful drugs that can strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of fractures or spinal cord compression.
  • Following a bone-friendly diet. Filling up on foods with bone-building nutrients is a good bet. Think vitamin D (fish, eggs, mushrooms), calcium (yogurt and other dairy, almonds, green leafy veggies) and magnesium (nuts, squash, dried herbs).
  • Exercising. Moderate exercise (running, lifting weights and jumping rope) can increase bone strength. You can get an individualized workout plan from your healthcare provider.
  • Avoiding sodium and alcohol. Salt (more than 2,400 milligrams a day) and large quantities of alcohol may damage your bones.
  • Quitting smoking. Lighting up may lead to lower bone density.
May 2013