Hip fractures are rare in people under 70. A new study, however, has found that midlife breast cancer survivors may face weakened bones decades before others, putting them at risk for hip fractures and other health issues.
Researchers in Chicago found that a combination of early menopause due to breast cancer treatment and common drugs used to treat the disease could be weakening the bones of breast cancer survivors once they hit middle age, leading to hip fractures.
A hip fracture is a break in the upper quarter of the femur (thigh) bone. The extent of the break depends on the forces that are involved. The type of surgery used to treat a hip fracture is primarily based on the bones and soft tissues affected or on the level of the fracture.
Hip fractures most commonly occur from a fall or from a direct blow to the side of the hip, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Some medical conditions such as osteoporosis, cancer or stress injuries can weaken the bone and make the hip more susceptible to breaking. In severe cases, it is possible for the hip to break with the patient merely standing on the leg and twisting.
Results of the new study, conducted by Northwestern University, are published in the February 2011 issue of Clinical Cancer Research. The lead author, Beatrice Edwards, M.D., was prompted by her observation that several breast cancer survivors in their early 50s were coming to her for treatment of hip fractures.
Edwards is director of the Bone Health and Osteoporosis program and associate professor of medicine and of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also is a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Researchers studied six women over one year and assessed the type of breast cancer they had, the treatment they underwent and a hip fracture’s effect on the quality of life, Edwards said. “One year after the fracture the women still reported difficulty with climbing stairs, shopping and heavy housekeeping,” she said.