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What You Need to Know About Osteoporosis


Breast Cancer image

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. It has been called a childhood disease with old age consequences because building healthy bones in youth helps prevent osteoporosis and fractures later in life. However, it is never too late to adopt new habits for healthy bones.

The Breast Cancer Link
Women who have had breast cancer treatment may be at increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture for several reasons. First, estrogen has a protective effect on bone, and reduced levels of the hormone trigger bone loss. Because of chemotherapy or surgery, many breast cancer survivors experience a loss of ovarian function and, consequently, a drop in estrogen levels. Women who were premenopausal before their cancer treatment tend to go through menopause (a known osteoporosis risk factor) earlier than those who have not had breast cancer.

Studies suggest that chemotherapy also may have a direct negative effect on bone. In addition, the breast cancer itself may stimulate the production of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone.

Show your bones some love. Fortify your diet with calcium.

Osteoporosis Management
Several strategies can reduce one’s risk for osteoporosis or lessen the effects of the disease in women who have already been diagnosed.

A well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products; dark green, leafy vegetables; and calcium-fortified foods and beverages. Supplements can help ensure that the calcium requirement is met each day. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily calcium intake of 1,000 mg for men and women, increasing to 1,200 mg for those age 50 and older.

Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and bone health. Food sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver. Many people obtain enough vitamin D by getting about 15 minutes of sunlight each day; others may need vitamin D supplements to achieve the recommended intake of 400 to 600 IU each day.

Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. The best activity for your bones is weight-bearing exercise that forces you to work against gravity. Some examples include walking, climbing stairs, weight training, and dancing. Regular exercise may help prevent bone loss and will provide many other health benefits.

Healthy Lifestyle
Smoking is bad for bones. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause earlier, resulting in earlier reduction in levels of the bone-preserving hormone estrogen and triggering earlier bone loss. In addition, smokers may absorb less calcium from their diets. Evidence also suggests that alcohol can have a negative effect on bone health. Those who drink heavily are more prone to bone loss and fracture.

Bone Density Test
A bone mineral density test measures bone density in various parts of the body. This test can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs and can predict one’s chances of fracturing in the future. The test can help determine whether medication should be considered. Ask your doctor whether you might be a candidate for a bone density test.

There is no cure for osteoporosis. However, medications are available to prevent and treat this disease.

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For more information on osteoporosis, visit the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center website at or call (800) 624-2663.

Source: The National Institutes of Health

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2009.