Chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, various cancer drugs and even cancer itself can weaken patients’ bones, leading to cancer-related bone loss and fractures. This problem is further compounded by other bone-loss risk factors patients may have, including older age, postmenopausal status, and smoking history.
Researchers in MD Anderson’s Bone Health Clinic are seeking new ways to prevent bone loss and fractures in cancer patients.
“Fracture risk in patients with cancer is an area that isn’t usually looked at,” said Huifang Lu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology. “Sometimes patients are referred to me for hip pain or back pain, and they actually have undiagnosed fractures. It’s really incapacitating.”
Hip fractures in any patient — with or without cancer — are associated with a mortality rate of 20% within one year, partly because of immobility and subsequent complications.
“The morbidity and mortality rates of fractures are very high,” Lu said. “And fractures seriously affect quality of life, so it’s important that we prevent them in our patients.”
The good news is fractures are largely preventable, she said.
Lu and Mimi Hu, M.D., associate professor of Endocrine Neoplasia and Hormonal Disorders, direct the Bone Health Clinic, where they’re studying various medications’ effect on bone loss in patients with a variety of cancers.
In addition, along with other MD Anderson colleagues, they’re participating in a number of bone health initiatives, including the Bone Health Program of Texas, a collaborative research program between academic institutions.
This cooperation will be critical for establishing approaches to maintain bone density and, more importantly, to reduce the incidence of fractures in patients with cancer.
“Our understanding of what factors, besides bone mineral density changes, lead to increased fracture risk in our cancer population is deficient,” Hu said. “Further research is much needed in this area. I don’t believe that one approach fits all who happen to have low bone mass.”