An often-overlooked part of managing our maturing bodies is keeping our bones strong and healthy. This is especially important for breast cancer survivors since some of the medications you take can weaken your bones. In this week’s post we’ll cover the causes of bone loss, who is at risk, and what you can do to keep your bones strong.
The most common cause of bone loss is surviving past the age of 30. That’s right. Bone loss is a normal part of aging. As you grow your bone is constantly going through a process called remodeling which involves destroying and building bone. This process continues throughout life. Before the age of 30, you make more bone than you break down, and after the age of 30, you break down more bone than you make.
Since surviving past 30 is generally a good thing, what are some of the causes of bone loss that we might actually want to change? Here are some things that impact bone health that you have control over:
And, of course, there are some things that you don’t have control over that put you at risk for weaker bones:
So, you can probably tell from that list that breast cancer survivors are at increased risk for bone loss. You’ve most likely got at least three of those factors on the list. First is being female. Second is being post-menopausal. This applies to most of you, and if you weren’t menopausal before diagnosis, treatment probably put you there. Third is medications. For those of you who had hormone positive breast cancer, you are likely to end up on an aromatase inhibitor at some point. These medications are supposed to decrease the levels of estrogen in your body to keep the cancer from growing, but one side effect is bone loss. Interestingly, tamoxifen, which is given to pre-menopausal women with hormone positive cancer, may actually work to improve bone health.
But don’t despair. There are plenty of things you can do to help strengthen your bones. The most important of these is to know what your baseline is with regard to your bone health. Fortunately, there is a simple test that can tell you how strong your bones are so that you and your doctor can determine just what you need to do to maintain and improve your bone health. This is called a bone density test or DEXA scan (find out more about this test by clicking here). This is not the same as a bone scan which is done to look for cancer that has spread to the bone. This test is specifically for assessing your bone health.
Now that you know where you are starting, here are some of the things that you can do to strengthen your bones:
As a breast cancer survivor, you are at risk for bone loss. Get a bone density test so that you have a baseline and know how much treatment to get started on. Take your calcium and vitamin D. Don’t smoke or drink to excess. Exercise. Eat a healthy diet.
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