Breast Cancer and Bone Health
In recent newsletters, we’ve reported on the benefits of exercise in helping manage cancer recovery, and indeed, in improving outcomes following cancer diagnosis. Exercise Oncology is a rapidly growing area, and we’re seeing more and more cancer patients referred by medical professionals for exercise programs, as it helps improve tolerance to chemotherapy and other treatments, helps reduce the impact of short-term side effects (e.g. nausea, fatigue, weakness), and in some cases, has even shown to improve survivorship in certain cancers (including breast cancer and colorectal cancer). Importantly, exercise is also very important in helping reduce the long-term health consequences that may result from cancer treatment and certain drugs.
Osteoporosis Australia strongly advocates that people be made aware of the results that certain drugs used to treat breast cancer can have on bone health. Most breast cancers rely on the female hormone estrogen to survive and grow. In an effort to combat this, many of the medications prescribed to breast cancer sufferers aims to reduce estrogen output, which in turn helps starve the cancer, ultimately helping to reduce its size and combat it altogether. However, as estrogen is important in maintaining bone health, a reduction in the body’s estrogen levels also results in the weakening of the bone integrity and can fast-track the development of osteoporosis.
There are several treatments that can result in this: example of drugs includes aromatase inhibitors (e.g. anastrozole, letrozole, exemestane), Goserelin (Zoladex), and Taxomifen; chemotherapy (which can destroy cance cells, but may also damage the ovaries and affect their ability to produce estrogen); and surgery (eg. removal of the ovaries to help prevent cancer recurrence).
Consequently, exercise is highly recommended for people with breast cancer, and particularly those who have undergone any of the above treatment types. It is widely recognised that suitable exercises that are osteogenic (i.e. “bone building”) in nature can slow down, and even prevent bone density reduction. The recommendations are to include exercises that are weight-bearing in nature, are progressed accordingly and where safe, include some level of impact. Such exercise should be performed on 3-5 days per week for optimal benefit. In doing so, patients can rest assured they are not only helping manage their short-term side effects, as well as optimising their cancer outcomes, but they are also preserving their long-term health.