What’s the Connection Between Breast Cancer and Bone Health?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women who are diagnosed with breast cancer may have already been at risk for osteoporosis because of their age. Often, women are diagnosed in their 50s or 60s—a time when bone health is already increasingly important.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. According to NIH, more than 53 million people in the United States either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass.
The Beebe Oncology Services team of medical oncologists often talk to patients about bone health.
Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease, so you many never show any signs or symptoms, but then it happens—a broken bone.
Risk factors for osteoporosis and bone loss include: family history of osteoporosis, small frame, being postmenopausal/early menopause, low calcium intake, lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, and prolonged use of certain medications.
Anyone can have osteoporosis, but it is more common in older women due to menopause.
The hormone estrogen has a way of protecting your bones; therefore, a change in hormone levels during menopause can generate bone loss. Women going through breast cancer treatment are very likely to go through early menopause. Due to surgery and chemotherapy, women often lose ovarian function causing a change in estrogen levels and initiating menopause.
How to Manage Osteoporosis
Although osteoporosis is a preventable disease, by the time symptoms show you may think it is too late. It is never too late, however, for healthy lifestyle changes to strengthen your bones and lower your risk of breast cancer.
- Nutrition is a key factor in any healthy lifestyle. To specifically fight the effects of osteoporosis, you want to make sure your diet is full of calcium and vitamin D. A few good sources of calcium are 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; and vitamin-fortified cereal. You may also want to consider taking a calcium supplement. The dose can vary based on gender and age, so be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning a supplement regimen.
- Vitamin D assists with calcium absorption, so it is just as important. Your body absorbs vitamin D through sunlight, so if you are not outside much, be sure to incorporate vitamin D-fortified milk, egg yolks, herring, salmon, and tuna into your diet. You may also want to consider a vitamin D supplement.
- Weight-bearing exercise makes your bones stronger because you are forced to work against gravity. It is as easy as going for a walk or taking the stairs. If you are looking for something a bit more challenging, try playing tennis, taking a dance class, or lifting weights. You may even reduce your risk for breast cancer, according to recent research.
- Healthy lifestyle choices are key to an overall better quality life. We all know that smoking can damage our lungs and is a risk factor for breast cancer, but it can also cause women to go into early menopause which can leave your bones less protected and more susceptible to bone loss. Smoking can also block calcium absorption, which is so important to keeping bones strong. Be mindful of alcohol intake and nutrition, and be sure to get your cancer screenings.
If you think you are at risk for osteoporosis, especially if you have had breast cancer, talk to your doctor about a bone density test. It is an easy and painless test that can measure bone density throughout the body and predict the likelihood of a fracture, and if medication could be a necessary treatment option.
Learn more about Beebe Oncology Services.
For more information on mammography services at Beebe, go to www.beebehealthcare.org/3-D-mammo. If you have questions about whether you qualify for a free screening through the Screening for Life program, call our Cancer Screening Nurse Navigator at (302) 645-3169.