Bone health is important, no matter your age. Our bones support us and allow us to move. They protect the brain, heart, and other organs from injury. Our bones also store minerals such as calcium and phosphorous, which help keep our bones strong, and release them into the body when we need them for other uses.
To live a bone-healthy life:
- Eat 2–3 servings of foods that are rich in calcium.
- Consider a vitamin D supplement.
- Use good posture when working and on mobile devices.
- Stop multitasking when you walk.
- Do not smoke or vape.
- Limit your alcohol use.
- Talk with your doctor if you develop any medical conditions to see how they might affect your bone health.
- Ask your doctor if you take a medication about how it might affect your bone health.
For age-specific information on bone health, click here.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. Osteoporosis develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases, or when the quality of bone changes. This can lead to a decrease in bone strength that increases the risk of fractures (broken bones).
Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease because you typically do not have symptoms, and you may not know you have the disease until you break a bone. Globally, 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 5 men aged 50+ will suffer an osteoporotic fracture.
Those who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis may be curious about their risk of breaking a bone. Your risk is based on a variety of factors, including family history, medical conditions you’ve had, and medicines you’ve taken.
Know your fracture risk by using this calculator.
Bone Health & Breast Cancer
Cancer can have hidden yet dramatic consequences for bone health.
Before you begin treatments for breast cancer, you should get your bone density checked. The standard test for bone density is called a DXA. You lie fully clothed on an open table and get a low-dose X-ray. This test will establish your baseline bone density. That way, your health care provider can check your bone density again a few years later to see whether you are losing bone during your treatment.
You should also find out your family bone health history. Tell your health care provider if anyone in your family had osteoporosis or broken bones after age 50.
Common breast cancer treatments can impact bone health.
Some chemotherapy treatments lower estrogen levels and cause women to go through menopause early. For women who haven’t gone through menopause, shutting down the ovaries can help prevent breast cancer from coming back. Both of these situations can lead to bone loss and increased fracture risk.
You might be sent to a radiation oncologist for radiation therapy to treat your breast cancer. This therapy is used to kill cancer cells that may be left in the breast after surgery. Radiation therapy can cause bone loss and fracture risk. In radiation therapy to treat breast cancer, radiation exposure to the ribs increases the risk of rib fractures.
Aromatase inhibitors are hormone therapies used to treat estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. These evidence-based treatments keep cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. Side effects of aromatase inhibitors include muscle pain, joint pain, menopausal symptoms, and a loss of bone density, which can lead to an increased risk of fractures (broken bones).
To view other treatments & their impact on bone health, click here.
A balanced diet of whole foods, including protein, fats, and carbohydrates, is important for bone health. Try to include a variety of foods on your plate to get your essential nutrients. You should be able to get most of the nutrients your body needs from your diet rather than from supplements.
Good nutrition will not only keep your bones strong but also help you keep up your weight, which is important for preventing fractures.
There are three nutrients that are especially important for bone health. You need to pay special attention to make sure you get enough of these nutrients.
- Calcium: Many foods contain calcium, but dairy products contain the most calcium per serving size. The amount of calcium you need changes with age. Try to consume one calcium-rich food per meal. If you don’t consume dairy products, you will need to work hard to get enough calcium in your diet. You might need to take a calcium supplement to make up the difference.
- Vitamin D: Although vitamin D can be made in the skin when it is exposed to sunshine, the sun is not a reliable source of vitamin D for most people. To maintain a good level of vitamin D, people need anywhere from 15 mcg to 50 mcg (600 to 2,000 international units) a day. For healthy adults, the National Academy of Medicine suggests 15–20 mcg (600–800 IU). However, if you have a metabolic bone disease such as osteoporosis, the Endocrine Society suggests a higher level — up to 50 mcg (2,000 IU) per day. There are not many foods that are rich in vitamin D. You will probably need to take a supplement to get enough vitamin D.
- Magnesium: This mineral helps your body regulate calcium and vitamin D. It is found in green vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains and avocados. The RDA — Recommended Dietary Allowance — for adult men is 420 mg and 320 mg for women.
You should consume protein with every meal. Protein helps build and repair muscles. Keeping your muscles strong will support your bones as you age. Good muscles help prevent falls and injuries.
How much protein you need depends on your age and weight. The USDA recommends .36 grams per pound of body weight. A person who weighs 150 pounds needs about 54 grams of protein a day, according to that formula. People who are more active need more protein.
Protein from lean meats and dairy products is of higher quality than protein from plants. Animal proteins contain all the necessary amino acids. To get complete proteins from a plant-based diet, you need to combine foods to get all your amino acids. For example, pair black beans with brown rice or whole-grain bread.
Looking for more information on nutrition? Download our free Nutrition Care for Breast Cancer Patients eBook.
Weight-bearing exercise can help preserve your bone health. Some examples are running, jumping rope and weight training (such as calisthenics or weightlifting). When you do weight-bearing exercise, you put stress on the bones. That triggers the bone cells to build more bones, which can lead to increased bone strength. This process is called osteogenic loading.
Bicycling and swimming are good cardiovascular activities, but they don’t put weight on the bones, so they don’t build bone strength.
Avoid exercises that increase your risk of falls. Be careful about flexing or extending your spine to avoid vertebral fractures. Check your balance. If you can’t stand on your dominant leg for 11 seconds, that means you are at risk of falling and getting injured.
Exercises can improve your balance and leg strength. Consider tai chi or yoga. Some instructors offer courses designed specifically to be safe on the bones.
Protect Your Bone Health
There are more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. This includes people who are undergoing treatment and people who have completed treatment. Most of them are women who have gone through menopause and would already be at risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Some treatments for breast cancer, however, increase the risk of fractures even more than natural menopause.
As breast cancer survival rates increase, and as survivors live longer, good bone health remains a vital part of maintaining quality of life. Preventing fractures will help survivors stay mobile and independent and able to enjoy the life they fought so hard to save.
Sources: americanbonehealth.org, bones.nih.gov