What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to weaken and become fragile – sometimes fracturing from little to no impact. 
Primary osteoporosis happens from the normal process of aging and/or menopause. Secondary osteoporosis is something survivors may experience as a side effect of cancer and related treatment. 
Osteoporosis is sometimes referred to as a “silent disease” because it can exist for years without symptoms – often until a bone is broken or fractured. The condition is treatable, but there is no cure. It’s critical to be aware of your risks for developing osteoporosis. This can help you detect symptoms early and receive effective treatment.
Risk factors
There are many factors that can increase one’s risk of developing osteoporosis, some of which may be outside of your control. Age, race, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions/treatments are all things to be considered.
  • Cancer types
  • Cancer treatments
  • Certain types of cancer, such as breast and prostate, may require treatment that involves blocking production of certain hormones. Blocking sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) can help slow growth of cancer cells, but can also lead to the development of osteoporosis.
  • Lifestyle & other
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Small body frame or low body weight
  • Older age
  • Gender: osteoporosis is more likely to occur in females, especially after menopause
  • Race/ethnicity: Caucasians and Asians have a higher risk
  • Low testosterone levels in men
  • Long term use of certain medications
  • Low intake of calcium and vitamin D
  • Consuming too much caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
The most common test for diagnosing osteoporosis is called the DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan. This scan measures the levels of calcium in the bones, typically at the hip or lower spine. A DEXA scan is recommended for at risk individuals, and should be performed every 2 years. Your T-score will determine whether your diagnosis is normal, osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis), osteoporosis, or severe osteoporosis. T-scores range from +1 to -2.5 and lower.
Recommendations are made based on the patient’s risk of bone fracture. Individuals that are not high risk may not require medication, but rather try to limit risks of falls and fractures. Medications prescribed to high risk patients may include:
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Hormone-related therapy: Estrogen therapy for women, and testosterone replacement therapy for men.
  • Other medications are available to those who cannot tolerate more common therapies. 
  • Worldwide, osteoporosis causes more than 8.9 million fractures every year
  • Someone experiences an osteoporotic fracture every 3 seconds
  • Osteoporosis affects an estimated 200 million women worldwide
  • 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience an osteoporotic fracture, and 1 in 5 men over age 50.
  • 61% of osteoporotic fractures occur in women
  • A prior fracture is associated with an 86% increased risk of any fracture
about osteoporosis

  • “Learn What Osteoporosis Is and What It's Caused By.” National Osteoporosis Foundation, www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/.
  • “Facts and Statistics.” Facts and Statistics | International Osteoporosis Foundation, www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics.
  • “Osteoporosis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 July 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20207886.
  • “Fast Facts About Osteoporosis.” National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/osteoporosis/osteoporosis_ff.asp#diagnosed.
  • “Osteoporosis Treatment Options.” Hormone Health Network, www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/bone-health/osteoporosis/treatment-options.



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