Loss of bone mass is common as people age. Cells that help rebuild bone don't get replaced at the same rate, resulting in bones that become thin and porous (full of tiny holes). This condition, called osteoporosis, is the most common type of bone disease. People with osteoporosis are more likely to suffer fractures and painful disabilities because of weakened, fragile bones.
More than 80% of osteoporosis cases occur in post-menopausal women, who have lower levels of estrogen, a vital hormone for bone density. Bone loss can also occur in men or women with poor nutrition, inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, or who are confined to bed for long periods due to illness.
Cancer treatments can also contribute to bone loss. Possible causes of cancer-related osteoporosis and bone fractures include:
- Some chemotherapy drugs can decrease calcium levels in the body
- Radiation therapy to the pelvic region, especially for women over the age of 65
- Spread (metastasis) of cancer to the bone from the original tumor site
- Hormone therapy to suppress testosterone in prostate cancer patients
- Steroid treatments
Tips for Bone Health
There are steps that can help reduce your risk of bone loss and promote strong, healthy bones during cancer treatment.
Early detection: A bone density scan can determine if bone loss is occurring. A scan can be performed before, during and after cancer treatment.
Calcium: This mineral maintains bone health and strength. Calcium decreases as we age, so it's important to replace it with diet or a supplement. Calcium-rich foods include cheese, yogurt and broccoli, or choose from calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, milk and pasta.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb and retain calcium. Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin using energy from sunlight and can also be found in vitamin D fortified food, such as milk.
Bisphosphonates: these prescription medications slow the rate of bone loss and may even help promote new bone growth.
Exercise: Weight-bearing physical activity (walking, dancing, stair climbing, and jumping rope) stimulates production of bone-forming cells and also helps build muscles, providing more stability.
Maintain a healthy weight: a nutritionally-balanced diet is crucial to healthy bones. People who are underweight are more prone to bone loss and fractures.
Prevent falls: Take steps to make your environment free of dangers that could cause a fall. Don't leave papers or magazines on the floor, and remove scatter rugs and other clutter that can trip you up.