Recent Cancer Survivors May Be More Apt to Experience Broken Bones

Chemotherapy and radiation can leave many lingering impacts on the body, including bone loss. A new study finds that this may lead to an increased risk of fractures among survivors, particularly those diagnosed recently.

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology has found that adult cancer survivors are more apt to experience broken bones, particularly in the pelvic and vertebral area, than older adults who have not had cancer. The risk is especially heightened in those who were diagnosed within the prior five years or who had a history of chemotherapy.


The study, conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society, examined data from the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort, which was linked to Medicare claims between 1997 and 2017. The team focused on the possible connection between cancer diagnoses and risk of pelvic, radial, and vertebral fractures. They also looked at how fracture risk may be impacted by modifiable behaviors, treatment, and cancer type. Overall, there were data from over 92,000 participants, with just under 13,000 experiencing a frailty-related fracture.

The researchers found that, compared with participants who had not had cancer, cancer survivors who had been diagnosed within the past five years with an advanced stage cancer had the highest risk of broken bones. Survivors who had undergone chemotherapy were also more likely to experience a fracture than survivors who hadn’t had chemo. While this was also more pronounced during the first five years, there was still a disparity at the five-year mark.


There were a few outside factors that were found to contribute to risk, as well. Smokers had a higher likelihood of experiencing fractures five-plus years beyond diagnosis, while survivors who exercised regularly had a lower risk.

Dr. Erika Rees-Punia, lead author and senior principal scientist in behavioral and epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, says, “These findings are important as the number of cancer survivors living in the United States is projected to rise to 26.1 million by 2040. Research like this seeks ways for cancer survivors to have a better quality of life after their diagnosis.”


She says she hopes the study helps form guidance on fracture prevention, possibly including the promotion of more exercise and smoking cessation.

If you’re worried about your bone health, there are a few things you can do that may help. Those include eating plenty of green veggies, doing regular strength training, and getting your bone mineral density tested.

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