Osteoporosis – How breast cancer increases your risk!

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australian women, with approximately 18,000 cases diagnosed in 2018. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, with women over 60 particularly at risk. Because of their age, these women already have a higher chance of developing osteoporosis, however a breast cancer diagnosis increases their risk yet again.

The link between osteoporosis and breast cancer?

Breast cancer has a special relationship with bone health because of the hormone drugs often used to treat it. Most breast cancers need the female hormone estrogen to survive and grow. Cancer treatments work by starving the cancer of estrogen and are therefore very effective. What we often forget is that estrogen plays a protective role for our bones, and reduced levels can cause bone loss. Women who’ve had breast cancer treatment may therefore be at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to lower levels of estrogen.

Given the rising incidence of breast cancer and the improvements in long-term survival rates, bone health and fracture prevention have become important health issues among breast cancer survivors.

osteoporosis and breast cancer

What exactly is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition whereby the bones in the body become less dense and more likely to fracture. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in pain and disability.

1.2 million Australians are affected by osteoporosis, and a further 6.3 million people have low bone density (osteopenia), a possible precursor to osteoporosis. It’s a silent disease, with as many as 4 out of 5 people with osteoporosis not knowing they have it. Undetected bone loss can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.

The good news? Exercise can help to prevent Osteoporosis!

The role of exercise

Like muscle, bone is living tissue, and it responds to exercise by becoming stronger. The best activity for bones is weight-bearing exercise where by it forces you to work against gravity.

Where to from here?

Exercise will probably be the last thing on your mind after a breast cancer diagnosis. But there’s a lot of reasons to keep moving, and reducing your risk of osteoporosis is just one of them. If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend the following:

1. Contact your GP to get clearance to exercise
2. Find a local breast cancer support group that offers group exercise classes
3. Contact an Accredited Exercise Physiologist so that they can guide you through an appropriate exercise program suited to you. To find an exercise physiologist near you, click here. 

Kitty Chao - accredited exercise physiologist