March 7, 2011

Breast Cancer Survivors at Risk for Falls

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Women who have survived breast cancer may fall more often than others, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute asked post-menopausal breast cancer survivors whether they had fallen in the past year and then tracked their falls over six months.

They found 58 percent of breast cancer survivors had fallen in the previous year, and nearly half fell within six months after joining the study. This is nearly double the annual fall rate reported by community-dwelling older adults.

"Our study is the first to consider how breast cancer treatment may increase fall risk by using a comprehensive set of objective measures of fall risk and by exploring mediators of the treatment-falls relationship," Kerri M. Winters-Stone, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Associate Scientist, Oregon Health & Science University, School of Nursing and a member of the Knight Cancer Institute, was quoted as saying. "Our findings suggest that recently-treated postmenopausal breast cancer survivors have higher rates of falling compared with population averages for community-dwelling older adults. Balance disturbances may explain how treatment could have contributed to falls in breast cancer survivors."

The researchers say their findings show the balance problems may have been related to changes in the vestibular system that were associated with chemotherapy treatment. They say the combined effects of chemo and endocrine therapy may increase the risk of bone fractures in breast cancer survivors.

"Falls in breast cancer survivors are understudied and deserve more attention, particularly in light of the increase in fractures after breast cancer treatment and the relationship of falls to fractures. Our findings add to growing evidence that fall risk is increased in breast cancer survivors and that vestibular function may underpin associations between breast cancer treatment and falls," Winters-Stone concluded.

SOURCE: Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, April 2011