Bone loss, also referred to as osteoporosis, occurs when bones lose density and become weak. Osteoporosis increases risk of fracture, which can in turn lead to significant pain and disability. These changes can happen as a result of the side effects of certain cancers, such as primary bone cancer or multiple myeloma. Metastases of the bone can also cause problems, and these usually occur from breast, prostate, and lung cancers.
Early menopause in women with endometrial or cervical cancer can lead to bone loss, as can hormonal treatments in men with prostate cancer. Other factors contributing to bone loss include: heavy smoking or alcohol use, a family history, steroid therapy, long periods of inactivity, lack of calcium and vitamin D in your diet, and race; people of Asian descent are more prone to this condition.
Osteoporosis can also come about as a result of cancer treatment. Women who have had breast cancer treatment have been shown to be at increased risk of osteoporosis and fracture. Estrogen has a protective effect on bone, and reduced levels of this hormone will trigger bone loss. Because of treatment such as medication or surgery, many breast cancer survivors experience a loss of ovarian function, resulting in a drop in estrogen levels.1
There is no cure for osteoporosis, but there are many preventative measures and treatments available. Treatments for bone loss include: medications that slow down the process as well as calcium and vitamin D supplements, weight-bearing exercises, maintaining a healthy weight and most importantly, preventing falls, since falls are the most frequent cause of fractures for survivors with osteoporosis.2
Looking for more resources or information about osteoporosis? Listed below are organizations that provide support groups, counselling, information and other resources to help those dealing with bone loss due to cancer.