Can A History Of Cancer Increase The Risk Of Bone Fractures In The Future?

Cancer treatments can cause many side effects, and some of those side effects can last for years after completing treatment. The American Cancer Society says some treatments can also lead to late effects, side effects with delayed symptoms that may not appear for years after receiving cancer treatment. Common late effects include heart or lung problems, hypertension, hormonal imbalance and infertility, cognitive problems, increased risk for stroke, and problems with teeth, bones, and joints. But can a history of cancer increase the risk of bone fracture in the future? 

A new study suggests that older cancer survivors are at a higher risk of some types of fractures than older adults without a prior cancer diagnosis. According to Healthline, bone fractures can lead to a slew of other problems and long-term health conditions. However, study results indicate that the type of cancer treatments administered and other co-existing factors may increase or decrease the risk of bone fractures in older cancer survivors.

Cancer and chemotherapy increase bone fracture risk

The study, published in JAMA Oncology, looked at 92,431 participants in the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort linked with Medicare claims between 1999 and 2017. The cohort study focused on older adults with an average age of 69.4 years. The results showed that cancer survivors — especially those diagnosed within the past five years or who received chemotherapy treatments at any time during cancer treatment — demonstrated a higher risk for pelvic and spinal fractures when compared to those with no history of cancer.

Fractures can cause more problems than just a broken bone for older adults. Erika Rees-Punia, Ph.D., lead author of the study and senior principal scientist and behavioral and epidemiology researcher at the American Cancer Society, told Healthline, "Pelvic and vertebral fractures can cause a lot of issues down the road, including high healthcare costs, limited mobility, and, as some studies suggest, a higher risk of premature mortality." 

The study also suggests that smoking might increase the risk of fractures, while physical activity could reduce the likelihood of broken bones and related complications (per American Cancer Society). Rees-Punia said in a press statement, "We hope our findings will inform clinical guidance on fracture prevention, which could incorporate physical activity with exercise, cancer professionals, and smoking cessation programs, to improve quality of life after a cancer diagnosis."