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Are Your Bones at Risk with Breast Cancer?
By Susan L. Greenspan, M.D.

Approximately 1 out of 2 women will have an osteoporotic fracture after age 50. These fractures can be devastating and lead to pain, disability and loss of independence. An additional insult to the bones can occur following certain types of hormone therapy for breast cancer, known as aromatase inhibitors (AI). Although these medications prevent the recurrence of breast cancer, they lower estrogen, the female hormone to even lower levels than found in menopause and this can lead to bone loss and fractures.

The good news is that osteoporosis and low bone mass, also called osteopenia, can be diagnosed early, prevented and treated. In addition to appropriate calcium (1200 mg daily including diet and supplements, in divided doses) and vitamin D (at least 1000 IU/day) assessments of the bone mass and bone mineral density (BMD) can be performed by an easy comfortable test called dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). This test will determine your risk for future fracture. If you are at risk for a fracture with a low bone mass, there are good options for prevention and treatment.

At the Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Center, University of Pittsburgh, a group of nationally recognized investigators, are out to prevent bone loss in women with breast cancer on aromatase inhibitors (Arimidex®, Aromasin® & Femara®). In a study called REBBeCA, postmenopausal women age 55 and older on an AI will be tested by DXA to determine their BMD and risk for osteoporotic fracture. If they are at risk they will have the opportunity to join a 2 year program to prevent bone loss. All women receive appropriate calcium and vitamin D. In addition half of the women receive an FDA approved medication to prevent bone loss. All services in the study are provided at no cost. The goal is to make sure that no one has bone loss and women continue to stand tall.

If you are interested in learning more about the REBBeCA Study and to see if you are at risk for an osteoporotic fracture, contact Karen, at the University of Pittsburgh, at (412) 692-2479. It is never too late to take charge of your bone health.

Dr. Susan L. Greenspan is Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Director, University of Pittsburgh Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Center, and Director, Bone Health Program at Magee Womens Hospital.

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