Oestrogen helps maintain bone calcium levels and bone density. The risk of osteoporosis is higher after the menopause.
Regular weight-bearing exercises will help maintain bone density. You could try:
- gentle weight-lifting.
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.
It’s important to make sure that you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium effectively. Dairy products are the best source of calcium, but if you prefer not to eat them you can get calcium from:
- green leafy vegetables
- whole fish such as whitebait, sardines and pilchards.
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. Talk to your specialist if you think supplements would be useful.
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. These can help prevent osteoporosis.
Tamoxifen, a hormonal drug commonly used to treat breast cancer, may help to protect the bones in postmenopausal women. A drug called raloxifene (Evista®) can also help prevent 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.