One patient’s story about cancer treatment and osteoporosis

At 43 years of age, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was treated with Chemotherapy, and Radiotherapy. I recovered very well after the treatment and was delighted to be able to get back to my favourite activity of hill-walking.  Two years ago, my GP suggested that I have a DXA scan to check on the state of my bones. I was quite shocked when the DXA scan showed that I had marked Osteopenia.  I had heard of Osteoporosis but always connected it with elderly women or people who had been under-weight or had poor nutrition – none of which was the case with me. 

The reason I am telling my story is to help raise awareness that this silent disease affects all age groups. I especially want to raise awareness amongst those who have been treated for cancer. The Oncology teams were great at treating my cancer and I will be forever grateful for their care and kindness.  I recovered from my treatment and felt very fit and well again, but Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy can both cause bone loss.  If it had not been for my GP sending me for a DXA scan, I may not have found out about my bone loss. 

A simple fall may have caused a hip or other fracture and I could have ended up in a wheelchair. I had assumed that if a person did break a bone they would be checked for Osteoporosis but I found out from the IOS that sadly this is not the case. You can’t feel your bones getting thinner and 85% (280,000) of people are undiagnosed. But this doesn’t have to be the case as it is preventable and treatable in the majority of people.

Since being diagnosed with Osteopenia, all causes of my bone loss were found and addressed with blood tests and an extensive questionnaire. I have been on an Osteoporosis treatment for the past two years and my bones are building back up well.  I may only have to be on the Osteoporosis medication for one more year, as my Consultant is delighted with the improvement of my bones.  I will always have to ensure I am taking the daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D and I will be continuing to have my bones monitored with regular DXA scans. 

The most important thing I have learned is that anybody can have bone loss, as there are 200 causes of Osteopenia and Osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis can be detected early and treated and in certain cases like mine, reversible. Please join me in helping to spread the word of how important it is for people to check if they have risk factors for bone loss. If you or someone you know has been treated for cancer or is going to be treated for it, please pass on the importance of them getting a DXA scan.

 Mary from Dublin


Message from the Irish Osteoporosis Society:

If a person is going to receive Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, Arimidex or Aromatase inhibitors for cancer, in an ideal world they would have a DXA scan prior to these treatments being initiated. This way if the person’s bone quality is poor, they can be put on a treatment to build up their bones and help to protect against bone loss, while being treated for cancer.

If a person’s bone quality is normal prior to being put on Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, Arimidex or Aromatase inhibitors, they still need to be put on a treatment plan to help reduce bone loss. 

The treatment a cancer patient is put on should be based on their age, results from a DXA scan of their hips and spine, their medical history, if they have broken bones, their lifestyle and the most important the causes of their bone loss.

If you have any further queries please contact the Irish Osteoporosis Society and we would appreciate you passing on this information to family, friends and co-workers.