Women who have had breast cancer may be at risk for another health problem – falls and bone fractures. According to a new study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, women diagnosed with breast cancer and treated for the disease have a greater risk of falling than other women.
Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer: Does It Increase the Risk of Falling?
When researchers studied post-menopausal breast cancer survivors, they discovered a whopping 58% of them had taken a tumble within the past year – twice the fall rate of healthy seniors who had never had breast cancer. Falls in older women increase the risk of bone fractures, especially in women who have low bone density.
To find out why the risk of falls was higher in breast cancer survivors, the researchers used neuromuscular and balance studies to examine some of these women. They found the breast cancer survivors had more balance-related issues than seniors who had never had breast cancer. Why the difference? They believe the chemotherapy for breast cancer they received affected their vestibular system, the portion of the inner ear that helps to control balance.
Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Can Cause Nerve Damage Too
Women who get chemotherapy for breast cancer and other types of cancer can also have damage to nerves that carry information from the body to the brain. This can lead to balance problems, muscle weakness or numbness and tingling in the hands or feet. Some chemotherapy drugs directly damage peripheral nerves, but if the nerve damage isn’t severe, the nerves may eventually repair themselves over time.
Women Who Get Chemotherapy Are at Higher Risk for Fracture
Women who get chemotherapy often undergo premature menopause, which lowers estrogen levels that help preserve bone health. Some women take aromatase-inhibitors during their breast cancer treatment. This class of medications lowers estrogen levels, so they also contribute to low bone density.
The Bottom Line?
Many women who get chemotherapy are unaware of these balance-related issues – and that chemotherapy drugs can lower bone density. Not all women will experience these symptoms to the same degree. It’s best to talk to a doctor about these issues before getting chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Eurekalert.org. “Breast Cancer Survivors at Higher Risk for Falls”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.