How cancer & cancer treatment affect bone health
Losing bone density is common as people age. Cells that help rebuild bone aren’t replaced at the same rate, causing bones to become thin and full of tiny holes. This condition, called osteoporosis, is the most common type of bone disease. People with osteoporosis are more likely to have fractures and painful disabilities because of weak and fragile bones.
More than 80% of osteoporosis cases occur in post-menopausal women because they have lower levels of estrogen. Estrogen is an important hormone for bone density. Bone loss can also occur in men or women with poor nutrition, insufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D, or who are confined to bed for long periods due to illness.
Cancer and its treatments also can lead to bone loss. Specific causes include:
- Some chemotherapy drugs, which can reduce calcium levels in the body
- Radiation therapy to the pelvic area, especially in women over the age of 65
- The spread of cancer to the bone from the original tumor site
- Hormone therapy to suppress testosterone in prostate cancer patients
- Steroid treatments
Improving Bone Health
Here are a few tips 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 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 in foods or with 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: This vitamin helps your body absorb and hold on to calcium. It is created in the skin using energy from sunlight and can also be found in vitamin D-fortified foods like milk.
Bisphosphonates: These prescription medications slow the rate of bone loss and may even help promote new bone growth.
Exercise: Weight-bearing physical activity (such as walking, dancing, stair climbing and jumping rope) stimulates production of bone-forming cells and also helps build muscles, which provide stability.
Maintain a healthy weight: A nutritionally-balanced diet is crucial to healthy bones. People who are underweight are more likely to have 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 rugs and other items that can trip you up.