Survivors of breast cancer often suffer in multiple ways from their disease, its treatment, and the side effects of both. An especially cruel consequence is the adverse effects that have the potential to further change a woman’s body, leading to chronic pain, disability, and even death. 

The altered body composition and decreased bone mineral density (BMD) that follows cancer may result in osteopenia and osteoporosis. The greater potential for hip and vertebral fractures bring an increased risk of mortality. New research is finding that resistance training may help. 

Impact of Cancer Treatment on BMD

In a multicenter review of the effects of resistance training in breast cancer, researchers focused on its potential for maintaining bone density.1 Bone mineral density, they noted, is at risk from a number of assaults. For example, chemotherapy adversely affects the size of the osteoids, which reduces bone formation and bone density. 

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Chemotherapy also results in permanent ovarian failure, which has an adverse effect on bone formation as well. And, aromatase inhibitors (AIs) deplete estrogen production. Bone density measurements obtained from the hip and spine of postmenopausal patients with breast cancer revealed a significantly greater loss of bone density in these patients compared with breast cancer patients who did not receive adjuvant chemotherapy.

Up to 80% of women with breast cancer experience bone loss caused by their cancer treatment. Bone loss occurs much quicker in women with breast cancer compared with those without breast cancer. Similarly, among women with osteoporosis, those with cancer have a higher rate of falls and their risk of fractures is 5 times higher compared with those who do not have cancer.1