Breast Cancer and Bone Density Scans

Monitor Your Bone Health

Patient about to have bone density scan.
Breast cancer and bone density scans. Hero Images / Getty Images

If you have been treated for breast cancer with chemotherapy, or if you are taking post-treatment hormonal treatments for estrogen suppression, it is important to keep a watch on your bone health. There are some painless, non-invasive tests you can take to determine the state of your bone strength.

A bone density scan, or DEXA, uses a low amount of radiation (less than a chest X-ray) to measure your bone mineral density (BMD) and predict the chance of fracture.

What to Expect During the Scan

During the test, you will not need to undress, but you will need to remove any metal such as coins, jewelry, pens, etc. that may be in your pockets. If you wear casual clothes, such as sweatpants and a loose T-shirt, and shoes that are easy to remove, that will make you more comfortable while the scan is in progress.

You will lie still on a special table, and the technician may arrange supportive pillows around you, to help position your bones. The room used for the scan may be dim, and the machine itself is small and mobile. You will not have to lie inside a small, tight space. Above you, the scan monitor will move in a slow glide, taking images of critical areas of bone, typically the hip joint and spine. The scan should take about 20 minutes.

Follow-up After Your Scan

The technician will record the results of your test in a computer file, and send them to your doctor.

When your doctor meets with you to explain the results, you may want to ask some questions:

  • Do I have osteopenia or osteoporosis?
  • How much have my bones changed since the last bone scan?
  • If my bones have not improved, what are my options for treatment to increase my bone density?
  • When should my next bone scan be done?

    You may also want to schedule other bone health tests, such as the bone marker test (blood and urine).

    Read a related article on lower levels of estrogen and bone density loss.

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