Bone health

Bone density facts

  • If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, bone health is especially important for you as research shows that some breast cancer treatments can lead to bone loss.
  • Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis (a disease that means your bones are weak and more likely to break) after age 50.
  • When a woman goes through menopause her levels of oestrogen and other hormones drop and as oestrogen helps maintain bone density this decrease can lead to significant bone loss. Your doctor will talk about "bone density" or "bone mineral density" testing. The higher the density, the stronger and healthier your bones are. You doctor will probably request you have a baseline bone density before you start treatment with hormonal therapy or chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy can have a significant effect on bone health. Also some women who are nearing menopause and require chemotherapy may develop a significant bone loss due to the chemotherapy causing early menopause. If chemotherapy causes menopause bone loss may develop during treatment and also continue after treatment.
  • Hormonal therapy known as Aromatase inhibitors (these being arimadex, aromasin and femara) work by preventing oestrogen formation therefore leading to bone loss during treatment. Aromatase inhibitors are used most often in post-menopausal women diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive early breast cancer.
  • Other hormonal therapy known as SERMs (selective oestrogen receptor modulators) can actually help protect your bones by slowing bone loss. These drugs are tamoxifen and evista.
  • In Ovarian shutdown, suppression or removal your bone density may drop suddenly due to oestrogen suppression.
  • If an aromatase inhibitor or chemotherapy is your necessary treatment for breast cancer you need to protect your bones during treatment. This is especially important if you have risk factors for bone loss these being post menopausal, small and thin, family history of osteoporosis, having low bone density, smoking, drinking and poor exercising. Calcium and Vitamin D is also an important factor.
  • If you're at high risk for osteoporosis and your bone mineral density declines during treatment, there are medications called bisphosphonates you can take to strengthen your bones. Bisphosphonates commonly used are fosamax and actonel.
Lifestyle changes are important and can help prevent bone degeneration during treatment:

Get enough calcium. Make foods that are high in calcium part of your diet:

  • dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • calcium-fortified orange juice
  • dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, collard greens, and bok choy
  • tofu
  • almonds
  • vitamin-fortified cereal
  • calcium supplements

Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Your body makes vitamin D when you're in sunlight, but if you're indoors most of the time or live in areas where sunlight is limited, add foods rich in vitamin D to your diet:

  •  vitamin D-fortified milk
  •  Fish
  • vitamin-fortified cereal

Do weight-bearing exercise. Exercise makes your bones and muscles stronger and helps slow bone loss. Do 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise 3-4 times a week for maximum bone health benefits:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • stair climbing
  • playing tennis, racquetball, or squash
  • dancing
  • lifting weights

You can do your 30 minutes of exercise 10 minutes at a time during the day to make it easier.

  • Limit or avoid alcohol. Heavy drinking increases the risk of bone loss.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking weakens bones and can lead to osteoporosis.