Latest Cancer News
Report Raises Questions About Breast Cancer Treatment Risk
By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
In the February issue of Clinical Cancer Research, researchers reported on six hip fracture cases occurring in breast cancer survivors in their 50s treated at Northwestern University's Bone Health and Osteoporosis Center.
Only one of the women had osteoporosis. The other five had some evidence of bone thinning call osteopenia, but not enough to warrant treatment with osteoporosis drugs under current guidelines, says Beatrice J. Edwards, MD, who directs the center.
"This certainly raises the concern that breast cancer survivors who are at risk for fractures are not being identified or treated," Edwards tells WebMD.
Early Fracture Risk Explored
Aromatase inhibitors, which are now widely used to stop estrogen production in postmenopausal women with estrogen-positive tumors, are also known to weaken bones.
Of 78 fractures among women between the ages of 30 and 64 linked to breast cancer treatment, 19% were hip or femur fractures.
Expert: 'Aromatase Inhibitor Risk Known'
Edwards says the increased use of aromatase inhibitors may lead to a big rise in early fractures among breast cancer survivors in just a few years.
Charles L. Shapiro, MD, who directs the breast cancer program of the Ohio State University Medical Center, says the risks associated with aromatase inhibitor use have been well reported.
"I'm not really sure what this study of just six patients tells us," he tells WebMD. "We have known that aromatase inhibitors are associated with fractures. The women in this study were very young, but that doesn't really tell us much about the overall risk in younger women treated with these drugs."
Shapiro says women who take aromatase inhibitors should be closely monitored for bone loss, but he acknowledges that this isn't happening enough.
"Bone health often falls through the cracks, so it may be up to the patient to make sure someone on their health care team is monitoring this," he says.
He adds that breast cancer survivors on aromatase inhibitors should have a bone density test every two years. They should also take vitamin D and calcium and osteoporosis drugs, when clinically indicated.
"If this isn't happening, the patient should definitely ask why," he says.
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