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An early menopause can increase your risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis) and heart disease. There are ways of reducing these risks.
Oestrogen helps maintain bone calcium levels and bone density, so the risk of osteoporosis increases after the menopause. Regular weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, hiking and gentle weight-lifting will help maintain bone density. Swimming isn't as helpful, because your bones aren't supporting your weight while you swim. If you already have osteoporosis, avoid exercises that put strain on your bones, such as jogging. A physiotherapist or your breast care nurse can give you further advice about exercise after breast cancer. You may find our sections on physical activity| and bone health| useful.
It's important to make sure that you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Dairy products are the best source of calcium, but if you prefer not to eat them you can get calcium from eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and whole fish such as whitebait, sardines and pilchards. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium effectively.
A well-balanced diet will normally give you all the calcium and vitamin D you need, but calcium and vitamin D supplements may also be helpful. Your specialist can advise you on this.
Smoking and drinking alcohol can reduce your calcium levels. Stick to sensible drinking guidelines, and if you smoke, the healthiest option is to give up.
If other people in your family have had osteoporosis, you may want to talk to your cancer specialist about drugs called bisphosphonates|, which can help prevent osteoporosis.
Tamoxifen|, a hormonal drug commonly used to treat breast cancer|, may help to protect the bones in post-menopausal women. A drug called raloxifene (Evista®) can also help prevent osteoporosis.
However, aromatase inhibitors| such as anastrozole , which are also commonly used to treat breast cancer, can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
National guidelines recommend women have their bone health (density) checked by having a special bone scan called a DEXA scan before treatment with an aromatase inhibitor. Depending on the results, you may be prescribed bone-strengthening drugs (called bisphosphonates) to minimise the risk of problems. Your bone health can be monitored during and after treatment.
The National Osteoporosis Society| can give you more information about prevention of osteoporosis and helpful treatments.
The risk of heart disease in women increases after the menopause, so you need to follow the well-established advice on reducing your risks:
If there's heart disease in your family, you may wish to talk to your cancer specialist or GP about using medicines to try to prevent it.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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