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When Breast Cancer Spreads to the Bones

Before you have surgery for breast cancer, your doctor is likely to schedule a bone scan for you. This test can show if the cancer has spread to the bones, which is called bone metastasis.

If bone metastasis has occurred, it can cause your bones to lose calcium quickly. The balance of calcium in your blood is disrupted, and too much calcium ends up in your blood. The condition is called hypercalcemia. If not treated, this calcium imbalance can leave small holes in your bones called osteolytic lesions. Hypercalcemia and osteolytic lesions can greatly weaken your bones and put you at risk for fractures and breaks. This is particularly serious for older women who already have naturally weaker bones.

Symptoms of hypercalcemia

These are some other symptoms related to hypercalcemia:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Constipation

  • Feeling thirsty all the time

  • Passing urine very often

  • Feeling sleepy

  • Confusion

Treatment for bone metastasis

If your doctor finds bone metastases, you will most likely be treated with a bisphosphonate. These drugs are given through an intravenous line. They are given in addition to your chemotherapy. Or you may have hormone therapy. Or you may have both. Here’s how a bisphosphonate works:

  • It inhibits further bone damage.

  • It reduces common symptoms and high blood calcium levels. 

  • It helps prevent complications of bone metastasis, such as pain and bone breaks. 

Bisphosphonates have their own side effects though, so be sure you understand what you need to watch out for and what to do if you notice side effects.