Cancer patients are at greater risk of osteoporosis

cancer patient in chemo therapy room with doctor and nurse
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Although patients who have undergone cancer therapy may be at increased risk of osteoporosis, prevention strategies will help reduce their risk of fractures.

It is important that patients who have undergone certain cancer therapies are aware of their heightened risk for osteoporosis. In consultation with their doctors, they should take action to maintain bone health and avoid fractures due to osteoporosis. Afterall, anyone who has fought cancer should not have to cope with disability or loss of quality of life due to fractures caused by osteoporosis. 

Why are cancer patients at risk?

Anyone who has undergone cancer therapy is at increased risk of osteoporosis for these primary reasons:

  • The cancer itself or bone metastasis may stimulate the production of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone.
  • Cancer treatments - such as chemotherapy inducing ovarian failure and corticosteroids - negatively affect bone health.
  • Certain cancers (such as prostate or breast cancer) are treated by hormone removal, which in itself contributes to bone loss.

Breast Cancer

Women who have undergone breast cancer treatment are at increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture for a number of reasons. They may have had oestrogen deprivation therapy, chemotherapy and/or surgery which caused loss of ovarian function resulting in a drop in estrogen levels. Reduced levels of estrogen, which have a protective effect on bone, may lead to bone loss. Also, as a result of the breast cancer treatment, younger, pre-menopausal women may experience early menopause, a risk factor for osteoporosis.

Prostate Cancer

One form of treatment for prostate cancer is androgen deprivation therapy, where the amount of testosterone and related hormones circulating in the body are cut back. This can shrink a prostate tumor or slow its growth. Studies have shown that men who have had hormone therapy or testes removal are at significantly increased risk of fracture.

Prevention strategies

As well as a clinical assessment that includes a DXA scan, preventive action should include nutritional, exercise and lifestyle advice. The doctor will likely advise calcium and vitamin D supplementation and will prescribe medication if needed.

LYB logoThis article appeared in our monthly Love Your Bones newsletter sent to IOF members.

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