Women who have had breast cancer may be at higher risk for osteoporosis than other women. First, they are more likely to undergo early menopause, due to chemotherapy-induced ovarian failure or oopherectomy. In addition, chemotherapy may have a direct adverse effect on bone mineral density (BMD), and osteoclastic activity may increase from the breast cancer itself. While estrogen therapy is considered standard for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, use of estrogen in women with a history of breast cancer is usually contraindicated. The approach to osteoporosis in women with breast cancer is also affected by the use of tamoxifen in many, as this drug appears to have opposite effects on BMD in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. We have reviewed therapeutic alternatives for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, focusing on patients with a history of breast cancer. Alendronate and raloxifene are currently approved in the United States for the prevention of osteoporosis; alendronate, raloxifene, and calcitonin are approved for treatment. Alendronate has the greatest positive effect on BMD and reduces the incidence of vertebral and nonvertebral fractures. Raloxifene and calcitonin appear to reduce the incidence of vertebral fractures; their effects on the incidence of nonvertebral fractures are not yet proven. Although no published studies specifically address the use of these approved agents for osteoporosis in women with breast cancer, understanding their relative effects on BMD in postmenopausal women in general will facilitate therapy selection in this population. Postmenopausal women with a history of breast cancer should undergo bone mineral analysis. Normal results and absence of other risk factors ensure that calcium and vitamin D intake are adequate. If osteopenia or other risk factors are present, preventive therapy with alendronate or raloxifene should be considered. For osteoporosis, treatment with alendronate should be strongly considered. Raloxifene and calcitonin are alternatives when alendronate is contraindicated. Further studies are needed to evaluate the optimal timing of initial bone mineral analysis in premenopausal women after breast cancer diagnosis and to determine the value of preventive treatment in women scheduled to undergo chemotherapy.
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