The Link Between Breast Cancer and Osteoporosis

Although the pink ribbon is ubiquitous throughout the year, October is breast cancer month. We will be getting reminders of this everywhere. Last night on Monday Night Football players donned their pink shoes, pink gloves, and uniforms adorned with pink.

This month is a good reminder to keep up-to-date with your mammograms and breast self-exams.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, the whole process is overwhelming and you are on a steep learning curve. Even though the focus is on breast cancer treatment, don’t overlook your bone health.

Current treatments effectively treat breast cancer but in the process may put you at risk for osteoporosis.

Therapies called aromatase inhibitors are the standard of care in treating postmenopausal women with breast cancer. The medicines called Arimidex®, Aromasin®, and Femara® are the standard of care for treatment of postmenopausal women for five years after surgery. These aromatase inhibitors prevent the body from making estrogen to prevent estrogen from fueling cancer cell growth. As a result, the rate of bone loss is accelerated particularly during the first two years of use.

Another medicine that may be prescribed is tamoxifen.  Tamoxifen is used in pre-and post-menopausal women with breast cancer as will as those at high-risk for the disease. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen. In postmenopausal women, tamoxifen may actually prevent osteoporosis. In contrast, when tamoxifen is used in premenopausal women, bone loss is accelerated. This paradoxical effect is not fully understood.

Breast cancer survivors are also at higher risk for osteoporosis.

Talk with your primary care physician or medical oncologist about ways to evaluate and maintain your bone health while managing your breast cancer.

Image source: