Cancer, bone health and osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to weaken and become very fragile. The bones become less dense and are more likely to fracture – sometimes from a minor fall or bumping into furniture. There are two types of osteoporosis:

Annette Schork, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

Annette Schork, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, is one of four oncology registered nurses at the Cancer AnswerLine™

  • Primary osteoporosis is the result of a normal physiologic process—usually aging and/or menopause.
  • Secondary osteoporosis is due to bone loss from a medical condition or a treatment side effect.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Talk with your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis. You may be at higher risk depending on your family history, diet and whether you have ever smoked. Older women (over 65) and older men (over 70) are generally at higher risk. White people also seem to have an increased risk.

Risk factors for secondary osteoporosis can be related to the type of cancer you had, your treatment, or the way your body responded to treatment. Specifically, risks may exist for survivors of certain types of cancers and treatments that could spread to the bone such as:

  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Multiple myeloma (cancer that occurs in the antibody-producing white blood cells)
  • Other solid tumor types such as lung, testicular, ovarian and endometrial (uterine wall) cancers

Continue reading

Food for the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

Maintaining a level of good nutrition can seem like an uphill battle when fighting colon or rectal cancer. Oftentimes chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause side effects affecting your ability to eat. Here are some tips that can help:food heart

  • Many of the chemotherapy regimens, including irinotecan and 5-FU, can cause diarrhea.
    • Choose foods higher in soluble fiber such as bananas, white rice, applesauce, oatmeal, and graham crackers.
    • Avoid fatty, greasy foods, caffeine, citrus or acidic beverages and foods high in insoluble fiber (fruit and vegetable skins, whole grains to avoid aggravating your diarrhea.
    • Make sure to drink one cup of additional replacement fluid for each loose stool you have, but drink this slowly throughout the day.
    • Watch your daily food to see if dairy foods could be triggering your diarrhea. If they do, use lactose-free dairy products or take lactase tablets instead. Continue reading

How to Cope with Radiation Therapy Side Effects

Radiation therapy treats cancer by using high energy to kill tumor cells.  Many people who get radiation therapy have skin changes and some fatigue.  Side effects vary from person to person; depend on the radiation dose, and the part of the body being treated. Some patients have no side effects at all, while others have quite a few. There is no way to predict who will have side effects.

Skin changes may include dryness, itching, peeling, or blistering. These changes occur because radiation therapy damages healthy skin cells in the treatment area.

Fatigue is often described as feeling worn out or exhausted.

If you have bad side effects, the doctor may stop your treatments for a while, change the schedule, or change the type of treatment you are getting.

Depending on the part of your body being treated, you may also have:

  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss in the treatment area
  • Mouth changes such as soreness, dryness and difficulty swallowing (if radiation to head and  neck area)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sexual impact (tenderness and soreness of genital organs if radiation to this area)
  • Blood count changes

Most of these side effects go away within two months after radiation therapy is finished.

Late side effects may first occur six or more months after radiation therapy is over.  Late side effects may include infertility, joint problems, lymphedema, mouth problems, and secondary cancer. Everyone is different, so talk to your doctor or nurse about whether you might have late side effects and what signs to look for.

What can you do to take care of yourself during treatment?

  • Be sure to get plenty of rest. You may feel more tired than normal.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Depending on the area of your body getting radiation (for example, the belly or pelvic area), your doctor or nurse may suggest changes in your diet.
  • Take care of the skin in the treatment area. If you get external radiation therapy, the skin in the treatment area may become more sensitive or look and feel sunburned. Ask your doctor or nurse before using any soap, lotions, deodorants, medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, talcum powder, or anything else on the treated area.
  • Do not wear tight clothes over the treatment area. This includes girdles, pantyhose, or close-fitting collars. Instead, wear loose, soft cotton clothing. Do not starch your clothes.
  • Do not rub, scrub, or use adhesive tape on treated skin. If your skin must be bandaged, use paper tape or other tape for sensitive skin.
  • Do not put heat or cold (such as a heating pad, heat lamp, or ice pack) on the treatment area.
  • Protect the treated area from the sun. Your skin may be extra sensitive to sunlight.   Ask your doctor if you should use a lotion that contains a sunscreen.

Did you experience any side effects from your radiation treatment?  What did you do to cope?  Please feel free to share any tips to help others.


U-M Department of Radiation Oncology

U-M Caring for Yourself after Radiation Therapy

National Cancer Institute, Radiation Therapy and You:  Support for People With Cancer

Mouth Care: Why it’s Important Before, During and After Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause complications like sores in the mouth and changes to the teeth, salivary glands, gums and bone, which makes mouth care important before, during and after cancer treatment.

Before cancer treatment begins:

Problems such as cavities, broken teeth, loose crowns or fillings, and gum disease can get worse or cause problems during cancer treatment. Because bacteria live in the mouth, it may cause an infection when the immune system is not working well or when white blood cell counts are low. If dental problems are treated before cancer treatments begin, there may be fewer or milder oral problems.

Visiting the dentist at least a month before cancer treatment begins allows time for the mouth to heal if any dental work is needed. In addition, a visit to the dentist before treatment starts will help avoid needed dental treatments during cancer treatment.

During cancer treatment:

Paying close attention to oral health during cancer treatment will help prevent complications or allow you to treat them as quickly as possible. Everyday mouth care during cancer treatment should include:

  • Brushing:  Using only a soft-bristle brush 2-3 times a day and at bedtime for 2-3 minutes.
    • Let the toothbrush air-dry between brushings and replace the brush often.
    • Avoid mint flavored or other strong flavored toothpaste or toothpaste with whitening ingredients, which may irritate the mouth. Instead choose a mild flavored fluoride toothpaste.
    • Try brushing using a mixture of 1/4 teaspoon of salt added to 1 cup of warm water if toothpaste seems to irritate.
    • If you wear dentures, they should be cleaned and rinsed every day using a denture cleaner recommended by a dentist. Store the dentures in water or denture solution when not being worn.
    • Rinsing: Avoid commercial mouthwashes and those with alcohol. Use a salt and soda mouth rinse instead.
    • Flossing: Ask the doctor if it’s OK to floss gently once a day
    • Lip care:  Use lip care products to prevent chapped or cracked lips Continue reading

Nutrition and Sarcoma: Overcoming Roadblocks During Treatment

Sarcoma is a term used to describe a whole family of cancers that arise in the body’s connective tissues, which include fat, muscle, blood vessels, deep skin tissues, nerves, bones and cartilage. Drug-related side effects for sarcoma often include nausea, mouth sores and lack of appetite that hinder one’s ability to consume adequate food and/or beverages.

Proper nutrition can help you tolerate treatments better, minimize complications and maintain a better quality of life.  Even if you are overweight, weight loss is not usually recommended during treatment. It boils down to being able to consume enough calories, protein and fluid to maintain your usual weight and muscle strength.

How can one continue to eat and drink sufficiently when appetite is poor or it is painful? Continue reading

Symptom Management is an Ongoing Process

Symptom Management is an Ongoing ProcessRecently, an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out that side effects from cancer treatment can last for years after the cancer has been considered cured. The article notes, “the LIVESTRONG Survey for Post-Treatment Cancer Survivors . . . found 98% of cancer survivors experienced a variety of physical, emotional and practical concerns.”  This can include fatigue, memory problems or lymphedema.

The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program offers a clinic which focuses on helping eliminate or alleviate the side effects of cancer and/or its treatment to patients – both current and former – are faced with.  About 40% of the patients seen by the clinic are referred to physical or occupational therapy .  They are working on focusing services to cancer patients so even more can be referred.  Many patient need help building strength, Walker says.  They are often referred to yoga instructors in their communities or provided with instructions on how to start a walking program.

If you are (or were) a patient of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and are experiencing fatigue, lymphedema or any other possible side effect from your treatment, contact the clinic at 877-907-0859.

Continue learning about cancer-related fatigue and symptom management