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National Osteoporosis Society (NOS)

Charities join forces to highlight osteoporosis risk from breast cancer treatments

The National Osteoporosis Society and Breast Cancer Care are today joining forces to highlight growing fears about the risk for women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer.

Some treatments for breast cancer such as chemotherapy or hormone therapies can affect bone health and concerns are growing that many women who’ve undergone treatments are unaware of the dangers of the fragile bone disease and are even excluding vital bone building nutrients from their diets.

The charities say in particular that younger women may be at increased risk of developing osteoporosis because treatments can cause early menopause and lead to reduced oestrogen levels.

A survey carried out by the two charities found that half of the women with breast cancer who responded said that they made changes to their diet as a direct result of their diagnosis and over a quarter excluded dairy products from their diet – with one third failing to take steps to make up for the loss calcium.

The survey also found that fewer than 5% had been given advice about diet from a health care professional. Most people relied on diet books and the internet for information about diet and breast cancer.

Acting Director of the National Osteoporosis Society Jackie Parrington said “The results of this survey clearly show that women who’ve undergone the experience of being treated for breast cancer aren’t receiving essential information about the impact the treatment may have had on their bone health.”

Jackie added, “I’m very concerned that these women could be at a greatly increased risk of osteoporosis and that many are making things much worse for their skeletons by also taking calcium out of their diet and of their families.”

Breast Cancer Care and the National Osteoporosis Society are now producing a new leaflet for women who may be concerned about their bone health and their risk of osteoporosis as a result of treatment for breast cancer. It explains what osteoporosis is and who might be at risk. It also looks at simple lifestyle changes women can make to protect their bones.
Lecturer in Nutrition at the University of Surrey and member of the NOS Scientific Advisory Group Dr Susan New said, “Cutting out all dairy products, without making a conscious effort to replace the lost calcium and other key micronutrients in the diet, is likely to have a detrimental effect on bone. We know from a number of studies that milk and dairy products are essential 'bone building' ingredients.”

The charities have also produced a paper which encourages health professionals involved in breast cancer treatment to consider the issue of bone health. It also discusses the positive lifestyle measures that women can put in place themselves to protect their bones.

Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care Samia al Qadhi said, “We have been concerned for some time that women who receive treatments for breast cancer may be making dietary decisions that could have an impact on their bone health. This survey has confirmed our worst fears. We need to ensure that women with breast cancer have access to information and advice from health professionals on bone health and diet to enable them to take informed choices about healthy eating and lifestyle.”

Breast Cancer Care and the National Osteoporosis Society are calling for measures that allow early detection of bone health problems and the provision of appropriate treatment. They suggest that guidelines may need to be introduced that recommend bone density scans for women who have an early menopause caused by their breast cancer treatment.

Dr New added, “A balanced diet plays an essential role in both the development and maintenance of health, and careful attention needs to be given, by both patients and health care professionals alike to encourage consumption of well-balanced, varied diet, containing a wide variety of foods for the main food groups"

The patient leaflet is available from the Breast Cancer Care helpline on 0808 800 6000 or the NOS on 01761 471771.


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