Did you know that some breast cancer treatments can reduce your bone mineral density?
Bone mineral density, or bone density, refers to the thickness and strength of bone. Because the hormone oestrogen helps to protect bones, treatments that reduce oestrogen or stop it from working can reduce bone density and increase your risk of bone fractures.
This condition in which bones lose their strength and density is called osteoporosis. This can lead to bones becoming brittle, fragile and more likely to break. Your risk of osteoporosis also increases with age and other factors, such as your family or medical history.
Not all breast cancer treatments reduce bone density. The treatments that are known to affect bone density include:
Some people may have decreased bone density, but not enough to be classed as osteoporosis. This is called osteopenia. If you have osteopenia, you may have a higher risk of fractures and may go on to develop osteoporosis.
If you are currently taking, or about to begin taking, one of the above treatments, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor about your bone health. It’s important to discuss your bone health early on, as most people with lowered bone density do not experience any symptoms. In fact, most people don’t realise their bone density is low until they fracture a bone.
To check your bone density, your doctor may refer you for a bone mineral density test, which is sometimes called a DXA or DEXA test. This test is painless. It measures bone density at the hip and spine using low-dosage X-rays. It is quite different from the bone scans that you may have as part of your breast cancer diagnosis or follow-up.
Your breast cancer specialist, GP or nurse can give you information about what you can do to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis and can refer you for a bone mineral density scan. Under some circumstances, you can get a Medicare rebate for a bone mineral density scan, but there will often be an out-of-pocket cost. To find out if you are eligible for a Medicare rebate, and what your out-of-pocket costs may be, ask the imaging clinic before you make the appointment.
These are some of the ways you can help keep your bones healthy.
Visit Healthybones Australia for information on maintaining and improving bone health.
Download the Healthybones Australia fact sheet on Breast Cancer and Bone Health.
Visit My Journey BCNA's online tool for information tailored to your diagnosis.
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