Osteoporosis is most common in older adults, but some types of cancer and cancer treatment can also contribute to its development.

Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mineral density that makes you more prone to fractures. Various cancers and cancer treatments can contribute to its occurrence.

For example, bone cancer can directly cause weak areas in your bones. And some cancer treatments, including hormone therapies to treat prostate and breast cancer and medications such as steroids, can speed up the loss of minerals from your bones.

Read on to learn more about the connection between cancer and osteoporosis.

Here’s a look at how cancer and cancer treatment can contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

Bone cancer and bone metastasis

Bone cancer and bone metastasis cause weak areas that make your bones more prone to breaking. Bone metastasis is the spread of cancer from other parts of your body to your bones.

About 5% of people who receive a cancer diagnosis in the United States each year will have bone metastasis, and about 8% of those people will have fractures.

Some of the cancer types that most commonly spread to bone are:

Changes to hormone levels

Research from 2018 notes that in both males and females, estrogen maintains the mass of cortical bone (the part of your bones that gives them their strength and hardness).

In females, estrogen is the primary hormone that maintains the density of trabecular bone (the spongy bone found inside the ends of long bones). In males, testosterone primarily plays this role.

Prostate cancer and breast cancer have been linked to lower bone mineral density. Hormone therapies for these cancers can also contribute to the breakdown of bone tissue due to disruption of hormone levels.

Ovarian and cervical cancer have also been linked to lower bone mineral density. The ovaries produce most of the estrogen in females, so the removal of the ovaries to treat these cancers can disrupt estrogen levels.

Lifestyle changes

Regular exercise helps preserve your bone density as you age. But cancer treatment can cause fatigue and nausea that make it difficult to exercise.

Decreased physical activity and decreased calcium and vitamin D intake as a result of eating less may contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

Disrupted childhood bone development

Undergoing cancer treatment in childhood may impair the formation of new bone tissue and put a child at risk of osteoporosis either in childhood or later in life.

For example, high doses of the medications prednisone and methotrexate are commonly used to treat childhood leukemia and can contribute to bone breakdown.

Cancers that can directly or indirectly contribute to osteoporosis include:

Some medications used to treat cancer can lead to bone mineral loss. Examples include steroids and antiseizure medications used to treat seizures induced by some brain cancers.

In females, any treatment that lowers estrogen can potentially contribute to the development of osteoporosis. These include:

Hormone therapy to treat prostate cancer in males may also contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis often doesn’t cause any symptoms until it leads to a fractured bone. But you may develop symptoms such as:

  • bone tenderness or pain
  • rounding of your upper back
  • a stooped posture
  • loss of height

It’s important to speak with a doctor if you have potential symptoms of osteoporosis, such as repeated bone fractures, sudden back pain, or an increasingly stooped posture.

It’s also important to attend all your follow-up appointments so that doctors can monitor your bone mineral density status.

Treating osteoporosis that is caused by cancer (or by cancer treatment) often involves drugs that slow down bone mineral density loss, such as:

Healthy lifestyle habits may help support your overall bone density and reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis when undergoing cancer treatment. These habits include:

  • eating plenty of foods high in calcium and vitamin D, such as:
    • dark, leafy green vegetables
    • fish
    • dairy products
  • asking your doctor about vitamin D or calcium supplements if you don’t consume 1,000–1,200 milligrams of calcium or 800–1,000 international units of vitamin D per day
  • performing weight bearing exercises such as:
    • walking
    • jogging
    • weight training
    • dancing
  • avoiding or quitting smoking
  • limiting alcohol consumption

Learn more about preventing osteoporosis.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about osteoporosis and cancer.

Is osteoporosis a sign of bone cancer?

Osteoporosis can be caused by some types of cancer and their treatments, but it’s also common among people without cancer.

Can bone regenerate after cancer?

Medications such as bisphosphonates may help slow down bone loss and may even partially reverse bone mineral loss.

Can bone cancer be misdiagnosed as osteoporosis or vice versa?

In a 2023 case report, researchers described one case of severe osteoporosis being misdiagnosed as bone metastasis — but this is considered extremely rare.

It’s also possible that a fractured bone may be attributed to osteoporosis instead of bone cancer.

What is the survival rate of osteoporosis with cancer?

The development of osteoporotic fractures in males with prostate cancer has been associated with a less favorable outlook. Additionally, a 2018 study suggests that younger breast cancer survivors are at a higher risk of osteoporosis than females who have not had cancer.

Osteoporosis is a potential complication of some cancers and some cancer treatments.

People with bone cancer or bone metastasis may develop weak areas in their bones. Cancers such as prostate and ovarian cancer can cause hormonal changes that lead to bone loss.

Hormone therapy for prostate and breast cancer and some other medications, such as steroids, can also contribute to the development of osteoporosis.