The Other Bone Health
Osteoporosis, it doesn’t just affect women. Men with prostate cancer may need to be on the lookout for this as well. More than 50 million Americans either have osteoporosis or are at risk for developing it. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in four men over age 50 are likely to develop it. Osteoporosis means porous bones. It is a condition where the body loses or makes too little bone. As a result, bones weaken and lose density making them more likely to break.
Osteoporosis can cause a loss of height, stooping, and easily broken bones. It can be painful, limit mobility and, make healing slower or incomplete. Osteoporosis can sneak up without symptoms because it is not routinely screened—unless you are already showing signs.
Causes of Osteoporosis
Other than age, many health problems and some medical treatments contribute to the risk of developing osteoporosis. Autoimmune and gastrointestinal disorders, neurological conditions and cancer are among those. Prostate and breast cancer treatments can also be a proximate cause of developing osteoporosis.1
As bones weaken they are more likely to break. The spine, hip, wrist, and pelvis are at particular risk of fracture in people with osteoporosis. Male bone loss is generally slower and later than female bone loss. They are also less likely to seek treatment. Men tend to have bigger bones and do not generally undergo the rapid hormonal changes that women experience during menopause. Therefore, they are less likely to be aware that it can naturally affect them as well. By around age 70, bone loss tends to equalize between men and women.
Hormones play a protective role in bone health. Some cancer treatments increase the risk of developing osteoporosis as they block the testosterone or estrogen levels in the body.2
Lowering the testosterone levels in men can slow the growth of prostate cancer but this can also result in decreasing your bone density. In treating prostate cancer, a chemotherapeutic approach called androgen deprivation therapy directly increases the risk for osteoporosis. This is something that can be discussed with your doctor if there are concerns.
Bone loss in men undergoing prostate cancer therapy creates increased risk for fractures. People should consult their own physician for recommendations on how to support bone health while undergoing treatment.
Preventing bone loss
What steps can you take to reduce bone loss? Some recommendations are based on diet and exercise. Making lifestyle changes as part of disease management strategies can help you take better care of your body and your mind. Theses strategies are generally important for people as they age but can have an even greater impact on men going through prostate cancer treatment. Limit alcohol, exercise regularly with weight bearing activities like jogging, climb stairs or dance, and eat foods high in calcium and vitamin D. We do know that Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption.3 You can take some vitamin supplements for added protection if your physician approves them.
There is no clear association between the risk of developing prostate cancer and calcium intake. Different studies have shown variable effects on the relationship between prostate cancer and calcium. There is research that correlates prostate cancer with high calcium consumption; other studies show the inverse and some show no correlation.
There are drugs that can be prescribed, called bisphosphonates, which reduce bone deterioration. If you are undergoing androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer, speak to your doctor to find out if one of the bisphosphonates or other similarly functioning medications is right for you. Some of the more common brands in this class of drugs include Aredia, Zometa and Prolia.4
Unlike prostate cancer, osteoporosis cannot be cured. Bone loss cannot be repaired. That is why most of the efforts are to prevent bone loss and maintain a healthy lifestyle even when undergoing treatment that can lead to bone loss and other unwanted side effects.
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?