Osteoporosis, Breast Cancer, and Eating Disorders: Not Just for Women
Seymour, 70, noticed a patch of what looked like blood on his pajama top and thought he had cut himself, but he was not scratched. His doctor tested the discharge and told the New Jersey man he had breast cancer.
Dan, also 70, a retired Michigan engineer, was pulling weeds, when for no apparent reason, he fractured two vertebrae. He was diagnosed with osteoporosis.
As a teenager, Gary was obsessed with having a trim, athletic body. The Wisconsin resident shunned food and exercised excessively. Sometimes he would do sit-ups and push-ups for 3 hours before school. He ate little and shrank from 160 pounds (73 kilograms) to an unhealthy 104 pounds (47 kilograms). Over a 6 year period, he was hospitalized 4 times. Now 26, Gary says he is "completely recovered" from his eating disorder.
What do these men have in common? They all suffer from illnesses typically thought of as "women's diseases." Breast cancer, osteoporosis, and eating disorders all occur in men as well, though their prevalence is much greater in the female population. As a result, many men may fail to recognize symptoms. Likewise, doctors and families often do not suspect these illnesses. This can delay therapy and make disorders more difficult to treat.
Medical experts say men may shy away from seeking medical treatment for disorders they feel are unmasculine. In support groups, men use terms like "very scared" and "ashamed" to describe initial feelings about their illnesses. Others express frustration at the difficulty in finding information and therapy.
Osteoporosis is a disorder in which bones become weakened. It is sometimes known as a silent disease because it has no symptoms until the first fracture occurs. Osteoporosis most often results in fractures of the hip, wrist, andspine. Scientists are still piecing together just how osteoporosis develops, but it is well known that a key factor is low levels of the mineral calcium.
Bone is continually being broken down and rebuilt throughout our lifetime. Calcium is an important factor in rebuilding. Low calcium in the body may impair the rebuilding process. In addition, when there is not enough calcium in the diet, the body will take calcium out of the bones to make sure there is enough in the bloodstream. Both these factors can make the breakdown process exceed the rebuild process make the bones less dense, weaker, and vulnerable to fractures. Loss of sex hormones can also accelerate bone loss. Testosterone may diminish as a result of hypogonadism, a condition marked by decreased function of the testicles. Testosterone levels may also naturally become lower as a man ages.
Osteoporosis is seen less often in men than in women for several reasons. Men generally have greater bone mass than women, and in males, bone loss begins later and advances more slowly. Getting adequate calcium and vitamin D is the first line treatment for both men and women with bone loss.
The Endocrine Society recommends screening in men starting at age 70. Younger men (aged 50-69 years) should be screened if there are other factors present, such as certain medications or other chronic diseases. Screening is done by checking bone density. In men at higher risk for osteoporosis, a test called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, may be used to measure the spine and hip.
Though osteoporosis cannot be cured, it can be slowed down, and steps can be taken to prevent it. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests these preventive measures:
- Eat a balanced diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D.
- Ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement. A study reported that taking 1,200 mg (milligram) a day of calcium helped to increase bone mineral density in men.
- Exercise regularly, emphasizing weight-bearing activities. Be sure to use proper form when lifting weights. If you have osteoporosis, you may need to change certain movements to protect your spine. You may also need to avoid activities that involve a lot of twisting motions, like golf or tennis.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (2 drinks or less per day).
Talk to you doctor about factors that can increase your risk. Some include long-term use of certain medications, such as steroids or aluminum-based antacids. Also, increasing age, undiagnosed low levels of testosterone, and chronic lung or kidney disease can raise your risk.
Alendronate and other bisphosphonates that prevent or slow the weakening of bones are a treatment for osteoporosis in men. Calcitonin is a drug that has been shown to slow bone breakdown and reduce pain associated with fractures attributed to osteoporosis. If doctors see a benefit, some will prescribe this drug for men. Additional options include: parathyroid hormone and a nasal spray version of calcitonin.
Men who have low testosterone levels may respond to testosterone supplementation.
Last reviewedDecember 2014by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.