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Breast Cancer and Osteoporosis

    • Although your breast cancer treatment and recovery may be at the top of your mind, you should be aware of the link between breast cancer and osteoporosis. For a number of reasons, women who have had breast cancer treatment have an increased risk for osteoporosis.

      Osteoporosis is a condition common among postmenopausal women and is characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density. This causes the bones to become more fragile and increases the risk of hip and other fractures. Estrogen has a protective effect on bone; however, women produce less estrogen after menopause. Reduced levels of the hormone can trigger bone loss.

      Women who have been treated for breast cancer may also be at increased risk for osteoporosis for several reasons:

      • Loss of ovarian function due to surgery or chemotherapy will cause estrogen levels to drop.

      • Chemotherapy may cause bone loss.

      • Breast cancer itself may actually stimulate the production of osteoclasts, cells in the body that break down bone.

    • Osteoporosis risk factors

      • Family history of the disease

      • Being postmenopausal or having had early menopause

      • Abnormal absence of menstrual periods

      • Prolonged use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids

      • Low calcium intake

      • Lack of physical activity

      • Smoking

      • Excessive alcohol intake

    • Management strategies

      • Nutrition:a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important. Talk to your doctor about calcium supplements and whether you need them to meet your daily calcium requirement.

      • Exercise: the best exercises for your bones are weight-bearing exercises that force you to work against gravity, such as walking, stair-climbing and dancing.

      • Smoking and alcohol: smoking is bad for bones, as well as the heart and lungs. Smokers may actually absorb less calcium from their diets. Alcohol can also negatively affect bone health. People who drink heavily are more prone to bone loss and fracture.

      • Bone density testing: bone mineral density (BMD) tests measure bone density in various sites of the body. These tests can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs. They can also predict your chance of having a fracture in the future.

      • Medication: there is no cure for osteoporosis. However, medications are available for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

      For more information, contact the National Institutes of Health, Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center at 1-800-624-BONE or OsteoInfo@osteo.org.