How Breast Cancer Can Cause Bone Loss
Breast cancer treatment is quite harsh on the body, as many of the treatments, such as chemotherapy, do not discriminate as they attack both cancer cells and healthy cells. One of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment is the loss of bone density. Osteoporosis is the result of bone density loss, which makes the bones more likely to break. It is often called a silent disease, because osteoporosis can remain undetected as it progresses over the years. Sadly, many women are not diagnosed with osteoporosis after a fracture has occurred. Osteoporosis cannot be cured, only managed.
Why Bone Loss Is Serious
Apart from the pain and suffering caused by breaking a bone, certain fractures can have devastating consequences. For instance, many older people who break a hip lose their ability to function or live independently. By proactively working to curb your risk of fractures caused by osteoporosis, you can lead a better quality of life.
Menopause, Breast Cancer, & Bone Loss
Older women are at an increased risk of osteoporosis regardless of whether or not they have had breast cancer. One primary reason older women are prone to developing osteoporosis is that estrogen levels dip considerably as women age. Estrogen is the primary female hormone, and it has a protective effect on bone density, as it increases bone density, prevents bone loss, and reduces the risk of fractures. Once a woman goes through menopause, her body makes significantly less estrogen than before.
Unfortunately, breast cancer can cause premature menopause in women who are treated with chemotherapy, as the systemic drugs irreparably damage the ovaries. On top of that, breast cancer patients who have hormonal treatments can also experience bone thinning. Hormonal breast cancer therapies can lead to a 10% to 20% higher rate of fracture for up to 5 years after treatment, especially in post-menopausal women. Many women who do not have breast cancer take estrogen supplements after menopause, but unfortunately, this is often not an option for those who have had breast cancer. This is because many breast cancer types are sensitive to estrogen and can cause tumors to grow and spread when it is present.
What Breast Cancer Survivors Can Do to Prevent Bone Loss
While many of the factors that contribute to osteoporosis are out of your control, there are things you can do to reduce the impact of breast cancer treatment.
Breast cancer survivors can prevent further bone loss and avoid fractures by:
- Taking medication as needed: Treatment for osteoporosis help keep bones strong by preventing further breakdown and by helping the bones retain calcium. New research also suggests these medications may keep cancer from spreading (metastases) in post-menopausal women who have a high risk of recurrence.
- Getting enough calcium and vitamin D: Breast cancer survivors should get 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day. The body can get calcium through the foods you eat and from supplements. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking makes the cells that build up bones to reproduce at a slower rate.
- Exercising regularly: Physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercises, can help keep the bones strong, such as walking, running, climbing stairs, and so on.
- Asking their doctor questions: Because osteoporosis can go undetected for years, you can be proactive by asking your doctor about it. Inquire about your risk for developing osteoporosis, and make sure you make a plan for lifestyle changes you can make to prevent bone loss.
Interested in learning more? Contact Muir Orthopaedic Specialists at (925) 939-8585 to request an appointment.