Breast Cancer Treatment and Your Bones

Medically Reviewed

If you're a postmenopausal woman who has been treated for early-stage, estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, you may have been prescribed an aromatase inhibitor to prevent recurrence of the disease. Aromatase inhibitors prohibit the production of estrogen, which is thought to exacerbate this type of cancer.

But the therapy may increase your risk of bone loss, which can lead to fractures and osteoporosis.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that women slated to begin aromatase inhbitor therapy undergo a baseline bone-density screening and consider taking bisphosphonates—drugs that can slow the breakdown of bones—if they’re at risk for osteoporosis. But a new study reports that many of those women, especially those in their later years, are not being offered the screening nor are they getting the bisphosphonates they may need.

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin analyzed Medicare records to identify nearly 20,000 women 67 and older who were treated with aromatase inhibitors. They found that only two-thirds of eligible women received a baseline bone densitometry, or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). The older the woman, the less likely she was to be tested even though older women are more prone to fractures. The study was published in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

If you’re taking aromatase inhbitors and haven’t had a baseline DEXA, ask your doctor about scheduling one. You should also ask him or her about follow-up bone-density assessments as well as lifestyle measures you can take to reduce your risk of bone loss such as performing weight-bearing exercises and getting adequate calcium and vitamin D.

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