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Getting a Move on the Side Effects of Prostate Cancer Treatment

by Carol L. Kornmehl, MD, FACRO

Photo by Cancer Type

Prostate cancer is one of the most common malignancies to affect men. In addition, prostate cancer cells tend to thrive on testosterone, the male hormone. By altering the hormonal environment and reducing the amount of testosterone the body produces, cancer cells “starve” and die. This measure can increase the man’s survival. Hence, hormonal therapy, also known as androgen deprivation therapy, is a mainstream treatment for prostate cancer.

However, a potential side effect of ADT, which causes the equivalent of a “male menopause,” is osteoporosis. In addition, the loss of bone density or bone mass can cause bone pain, fractures, and immobility. In fact, men who undergo ADT tend to lose 4 to 13 percent of their bone density per year. It should be noted that even men who do not have prostate cancer tend to lose bone density at the age when prostate cancer is most prevalent.

Men who use ADT should consume a calcium-enriched diet and take calcium with vitamin D supplements. They should also be monitored with periodic bone density scans. Happily, bone loss can be reversed or even prevented by a very simple measure: walking as briskly as you can while carrying on a conversation. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted a clinical trial to evaluate the effect of such moderate exercise on 70 men with localized prostate cancer (that which did not spread beyond the tissue immediately surrounding the prostate gland) and who led sedentary lifestyles. These men were treated with ADT and/or radiation therapy.

Bone loss can be reversed or even prevented by a very simple measure: walking as briskly as you can while carrying on a conversation.

Author of Article photo

Dr. Carol Kornmehl

Half of the men were directed to walk rapidly for at least 20 minutes per day, five days per week, for eight weeks, and the other half made no change in their level of activity. The results of the trial revealed that the men who walked experienced a 0.5 percent increase in their bone mass. On the contrary, a 2.2 percent decrease in bone mass during the two-month study period was observed among their sedentary counterparts.

Therefore, since men who use ADT and who are able to walk briskly might benefit substantially and will incur no adverse effects, this simple ounce of prevention of osteoporosis, fractures, bone pain, and incapacitation can translate into a pound of cure.

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Dr. Carol Kornmehl is a board certified radiation oncologist and author of the consumer health book, The Best News About Radiation Therapy (M. Evans, 2004). She can be contacted through her website,

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2008.