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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
'I put my bones at risk'
Jane Elliott
BBC News Online Health Staff

April Clarke
April kept a dairy free diet
When April Clarke first got her breast cancer diagnosis she worried about possible links between cancer and dairy products.

So she decided to cut all dairy from her diet in a mistaken bid to get more healthy.

But she did not know that women like her, who have undergone breast cancer treatment, are at a higher risk of osteoporosis because treatments can cause early menopause and lead to reduced oestrogen levels.

"At the time I was not told of any risks of osteoporosis.

Diet

"I had heard a high fat diet could be linked with breast cancer so I decided to cut out dairy.

"I reduced the amount of fat in my diet and was careful to have things like cottage cheese and skimmed milk.

We know from a number of studies that milk and dairy products are essential 'bone building' ingredients
Dr Susan New

"At one stage I even had soya milk instead of cow's milk."

For six months April kept her diet dairy free, but then she decided she was not thriving under the new regime and reintroduced some dairy back into her diet.

Now experts are warning that women like April should be given better information about how to protect their bones following a breast cancer diagnosis.

The National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) and Breast Cancer Care have joined forces to highlight the risks some breast cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy can cause to bone health.

And they are calling for women who have had an early menopause caused by their breast cancer treatment to get bone density scans.

Advice

A survey carried out by NOS and Breast Cancer Care, showed that half of the women questioned admitted they had made changes in their diet following their breast cancer diagnosis.

And a quarter of them said they had excluded dairy products from their diet - with one third failing to take steps to make up for the loss of calcium.

Fewer than 5% of those questioned said they had been given any advice about their diet following their breast cancer treatment and said they had relied on diet books and the internet for information.

Jackie Parrington of the NOS, said she was very worried that women were still not receiving the help they needed.

"I'm very concerned that these women could be at a greatly increased risk of osteoporosis and that many are making things much worse for their skeletons by also taking calcium out of their diet and of their families."

Dr Susan New, a lecturer in nutrition at the University of Surrey and a member of the NOS scientific advisory group, said people needed a balanced diet.

"Cutting out all dairy products, without making a conscious effort to replace the lost calcium and other key micronutrients in the diet, is likely to have a detrimental effect on bone.

"We know from a number of studies that milk and dairy products are essential 'bone building' ingredients."

Risks

Anna Wood, of Breast Cancer Care, said women needed to be better informed about their diet and health following a breast cancer diagnosis.

"We are very worried by the results of our survey which show that many women who receive treatment for breast cancer are making dietary decisions that could impact on their bone health.

"We are also concerned that most of these women have not received any information about diet from health professionals involved in their treatment.

"Women need to be informed that they may be at increased risk of developing osteoporosis as a result of their breast cancer treatment so that they can make dietary decisions that will help them maintain bone health.

" Without this information women are in danger of making changes to their diet that could increase their risk of developing osteoporosis in the future."

The two charities have now produced a leaflet for women who may be concerned about their bone health and their risks of osteoporosis as a result of their treatment for breast cancer and how to protect their bones.

The patient leaflet is available from the Breast Cancer Care helpline on 0808 800 6000 or the NOS on 01761 471771.




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