Bone deep: Learn how to keep bones strong, even if cancer treatment increases osteoporosis risk

The results of Susan McDonald’s bone mineral density screening were troubling. Bone density had decreased 3 percent in her spine and 3.6 percent in her hips since a scan done two years earlier. Given her history of breast cancer and the potential that related treatments might further sap her bones’ strength, McDonald needed a plan to improve her bone health.

Her oncologist, Catherine Van Poznak, M.D., outlined some options to address the thinning in her bones, which in the case of her hips had progressed to a precursor of osteoporosis called osteopenia. McDonald, a 72-year-old Ann Arbor resident, decided to make a concerted effort to increase her walks from 20 minutes to 30 minutes per day, covering about a mile-and-a-half to a mile-and-three-quarters during each outing.

Two years later, McDonald’s bone mineral density was much improved.

“I’m a small, fine-boned woman who’s likely to get in trouble with bone problems,” McDonald said. “But they were talking about osteopenia in my hips two years ago; they’re not saying that anymore.”

Bone health may be of particular concern for people with a history of cancer, said Van Poznak, a University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center oncologist who specializes in breast cancer’s relationship to bone. People with breast or prostate cancer who undergo treatments that block specific hormones may be at higher risk of thinning bones. Also, certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat these or other cancers may induce ovarian failure in younger women, causing bones to thin as a result of early menopause and estrogen deprivation. In addition, steroids may also accelerate bone loss in both men and women.

Although cancer treatment may increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis — which may lead to painful bone fractures — many options are available to prevent it, Van Poznak said. The key is to talk to your doctor early to develop a plan of action. Here are six steps you can take to improve your bone health. Continue reading

PsychOncology Clinic offers tools for coping

After Michael Daly was diagnosed with cancer, he felt alone. He didn’t know what to expect with his treatment and, in the early days, some of his doctors didn’t offer much encouragement about his prognosis.

Daly was prescribed a medication to treat his anxiety and depression, but after a while, it stopped working.

“I found myself not wanting to get involved in my life and just vegetating,” Daly said. “I wanted to get back into control of it, because I didn’t want to spend my days waiting to die. I needed to get over that hump.”

By then, Daly had chosen a new approach to treatment that brought him to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. His oncologist suggested he consult with the Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Clinic.

Staffed by social workers, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners, the PsychOncology Clinic provides assessments to Cancer Center patients to determine their level of distress and individual needs. The team then develops an action plan to help patients get the assistance that’s right for them. Continue reading

Men: Are you stubborn about your health?

Drive along I-94 or any other major interstate and you’re likely to encounter a bright, red billboard stating: “This year thousands of men will die from stubbornness.” According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the agency responsible for the billboards, men are 24% less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year. June is Men’s Health Awareness Month, so to help men get the information they need about preventive screening for cancer–a key part of any annual health regimen–the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has put together an online guide.

Visit the guide to learn about current guidelines for prostate, colorectal, lung and skin cancer screenings as well as to link to more resources about men’s health.