Skeletal Deterioration from Radiation

Bone loss causes more spontaneous fractures in men and women alike that are being treated for cancer. So what is bone loss exactly? It is a disruption in the normal remodeling activity, with an increase in the breakdown of bone without replacement rebuilding. Normally bone is constantly being broke down and rebuilt, we tend to recycle bone mass each week at a rate of 5 to 7 percent. When this does not occur due to osteoporosis, hormone therapy in the treating of breast or prostate cancers, chemotherapy, bone cancer, bone metastases, bisphosphonate drugs, and radiation exposure or therapeutic treatment of cancer; bone loss is the resulting consequence.

Cancer patients, most especially breast and prostate cancer patients are given what is known as bisphosphonate drugs. These are FDA approved to strengthen bones due to damage that has or will occur through the use of cancer treatments [chemotherapy and radiation]. Whilst the FDA approves of these drugs for that purpose there is strong evidence they actually create a reaction in the bones to allow spontaneous fractures. Experts believe prolonged use of bisphosphonates suppresses the remodeling and forms an insufficiency fracture of the femur, though they do not know at the point of the study whether all bisphosphonates drugs produced will have a similar effect on patients; yet patients are warned extended use puts them at risk. A Japanese study points out the characteristics of atypical fractures of the femur through the mechanisms of how bisphosphonates weaken bone structure. The mechanism of bisphosphonates reduces bone turnover by altering bone minerals and its matrix, causing an increase in advanced glycation end products of extracellular bone matrix, thus deteriorating the mechanical properties of the bone. Extended use causes an accumulation of the micro-damage to the bone reducing heterogeneity of the bone’s organic matrix and minerals. Simply put, bisphosphonate drugs suppress the natural production of new bone growth by substituting an artificial matrix that creates a brittle bone prone to fractures, many of which are spontaneous.

It is widely known that radiation causes bone damage as does chemotherapy. Using a drug that will further cause bone damage is not the wisest decision yet without patients understand the mechanisms by which bisphosphonates work and how they will create brittle bones, patients have no method of discovery. To save your bones from damage, bisphosphonates are not the answer.

Radiation – one of the most common methods to treat cancer, often combined with chemotherapy drugs. But is radiation safe? Will it affect your bones? The is yes.

Radiation therapy is delivered to a specific area to treat a disease, usually cancer. They try to kill off rapidly dividing cells, it is usually used with surgery and/or chemotherapy and study will often remark it is difficult to separate the effects of chemo from the effects of radiation. However, there is enough evidence shown when chemotherapy is not used that radiation can have detrimental effects on the bones as well as other side effects.

X-rays, gamma rays, and other ionizing radiation are offered as an effective cancer treatment. Radiation therapy uses a much higher dose of radiation than does typical imaging tests, they are in therapy treatments aiming to kill cancer cells through high doses directly hitting the targeted cells. DNA mutations can occur to surviving cells, this can lead to secondary cancer. Short- term side effects can include skin changes, nausea, vomiting, low blood counts. Long-term effects vary as well; one major effect is bone weakness. It is also noted infertility is a common side effect for both male and female patients.

Rad, Gray, Rem, Sievert, what do they mean and how do they affect the human body? They are methods of measurement for radiation exposure. Rad and Gray are absorbed dose units. Rem and Sievert measure biological damage to the human body. Depending on the photons per second given Rads or Grays deposit a higher energy deposition in tissue or at a lower rate less deposition. For example: that a rad or Gray of alpha energy absorbed by soft human tissue does 20 times more damage than a rad or Gray of gamma, x-ray or beta energy absorbed. It is not necessary to fully understand the conversion of Rads to Rems or Grays to Sieverts but understanding little will go a long way in understanding the damaging effects to the human body.

The amount of radiation or the dose varies depending on the test or treatment. Imaging exposure gives you about a 0.1 mSV [milli Sievert] for a 2 view chest x-ray while a regular chest x-ray is about 7-8 mSV. A PET /CT scan can be as high as 30mSV. Often the settings are not changed for adults to children, giving children a higher exposure. Example: a stomach scan may expose the adult to 10 mSV yet the same setting would expose a baby to 20mSV.

Typically, a person will be exposed through ambient radioactivity, dental x-rays, airport scanners, and such radiation to about 2- 3 millisieverts. The annual exposure in the US for nuclear plant workers is 0.05 Sieverts, below these levels, the DNA repairing is kept up without damage to the body. Above this level and the body cannot keep up with the damage. 100 millisieverts are where cancer risk begins.

What is occurring in the body when the levels of radiation are far higher than what the government allows nuclear plant workers as a safe level? Bone loss or damage, and a vast list of other side effects:

Nausea and vomiting, epithelial surface damage, mouth, throat and stomach sores, intestinal discomfort, swelling, infertility, fibrosis, hair loss, salivary gland and tear duct dryness, sweat gland loss of function, lymphedema, secondary cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline, damage to the GI tract, pituitary issues, pelvic bone changes and weakening of the bones.

While most of the side effects are recognized and some dealt with, others are pushed off and often not considered or accepted as an effect of radiation treatments. The most damaging for the quality of life and sometimes life itself is the damage to the bone structure. Our skeletal system is our framework, without it, we are unable to fully function, enjoy life or live with any true quality of life.

2 Grays of radiation given to a human is about a normal dose of a single radiation treatment, a full dose delivers typically as much as 70 to 80 Grays. Bone loss was known in patients that had full doses but studies show that even a single dose can trigger a severe bone loss, couple that with chemotherapy and the patient receives a double hit to their bones. There is a cumulative effect and this greatly increases the damaging effects. Bone health was adversely affected by bone density, thickness, spacing, and trabecular connectivity.

In a study done by James Ewing, MD [ 1866-1943] American pathologist, using radiation to shrink bone tumors, with surgery and Coley’s toxins, three patients studied were described that their irradiated bones became brittle and were easily fractured. Ewing noted he observed a thickening in the outer layer of the bone at the expense of the marrow cavity, as well as susceptibility to infection.

Peter Dedon [ Radiation Protection Committee at MIT, member] said: “What happens is that the nucleus of radioactive elements undergoes decay and emits high-energy particles. If you stand in the way of those particles, they are going to interact with the cells of your body. You literally get a particle, an energy packet, moving through your cells and tissues.”

Note: no mention of bone loss in the above chart

Exposing bone to radiation may result in major complications, necrosis [cell death], fractures, severe changes in bone growth and secondary radiation-induced cancer. The tolerance dose for an adult femur is 38 to 43 Grays. The chart describing dosages of radiation says 20,000 mSV or 20 Grays is a targeted dose for cancer radiotherapy. Yet, typically, 80,000 mSV or 80 Grays is used as a dosage for prostate cancer, 60,000 mSV or 60 Grays for breast cancer, 70,000 mSV or 70 Grays for lung cancer, with rectal cancer at 50,000 mSV or 50 Grays. Remember, 2-3 mSV is considered safe. And over 100 mSV is cause for risk of secondary cancer. It is also cumulative.

The incidence of osteoradionecrosis or bone death by radiation at 70 – 80 Grays is at about 14-22 percent. When the femur, for example, can tolerate about 38- 43 Grays it is obvious why the incidence of bone loss is so greatly found in patients exposed to radiotherapy.

Pelvic bone exposure leads to hip and pelvic bone problems including weak bones and cracks in the bone. Often bone cells are damaged so they are unable to function properly, therefore, they cannot supply the bones proper nutrients, this leads to weak bones or if blood loss occurs from damage avascular necrosis. Tiny cracks can appear in pelvic bones called pelvic insufficiency fractures. Those that are older or also take hormone treatments will be at a greater risk

Bone density is decreased, osteoradionecrosis [bone death from radiation] of the mandible, pelvis, hip, long bones [ as in the legs] and ribs are the most common bone damage from radiation. In children, long bones and spine may mature abnormally if the damage is in the growth plate. In the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], it was noted in an article that 60- 200 percent increase in hip fracture rates following radiotherapy for pelvic cancer in women, of those breaking a hip the decline of quality of life may lead to death in approximately 20 percent of those cases affected.

According to Ted Bateman, professor, and director of the Clemson’s Osteoporosis Biomechanics Laboratory, “Past studies confirm that patients who are undergoing radiation treatment for cancer experience more fractures and hip fractures are particularly damaging to long-term health.”

So, pain results and quality of life suffers, doctors will suggest pain killers, bisphosphates [that we know will further run the risk of weakening the bones] and walking aids like a cane or walker. Hip replacement, rods, and screws put in place by an orthopedic surgeon may be suggested. Is this a solution? Weighing in the benefits to the negative side effects, how does radiation rank?

How do we face cancer patients and tell them radiation is a good choice? What do we tell patients that have bone damage from radiation or chemotherapy? Do we give them methods to help rebuild their skeletal system? I think that is a step in the right direction. Is an alternative to invasive and damaging radiation treatment in order? And there is.

Do you need to discuss alternative options to radiation? Have you had damage and what to try to repair your bones? Ask someone at Jesicha’s Hope to help you. Contact us at or email us at visit our Facebook page: or join a discussion in our group



2 comments on “Skeletal Deterioration from Radiation

  1. Bill

    I can no longer keep quiet and wish to submit my view of your unfounded alternative cure for cancer:::::::::

    It’s because of people like you that my wife is no longer alive. The idea that there is a world-wide conspiracy preventing finding a cure for cancer is nothing short of STUPID. Again thank you and others for preaching to cancer patients that Chemo is poison. For your information the medical research establishment is finding other cures such as immunotherapy and people like you and others do your best to say it’s more poison. How can people like you sleep at night????????????????

    Bill Shepard

  2. jesichashope

    Bill, this article was not about alternatives but about the evidence and scientific reasons why people undergoing radiation have bone structure problems. In order to make good logical decisions regarding your health, it is necessary to have the facts.

    I am sorry your wife died because we point out facts regarding drugs and treatments; good, bad or indifferent, the facts need to be known and the truth does not change why your wife died. I assume she died of cancer, that she did chemotherapy and radiation. I assume perhaps she tried some sort of alternative [many are okay some not, you cannot judge all because of one or a few] and the alternative or remedy did not work. I am again sorry to hear that. Like there are good mainstream treatments for many things, there are bad, we cannot judge all because of a few bad ones.

    A world-wide conspiracy? No, there is no conspiracy blocking a cure, the cancer industry is a huge industry and if you understand business you will understand the need to keep profits high, it is not personal, it is business. Scientists are paid high salaries to create drugs that will treat the disease, curing is not a prerequisite. Keeping patients as customers is a known factor, If you believe doctors are gods and the medical industry has your best interests in mind, that is not reality. I will not use the derogatory statement: stupid as you did. Most people that do not understand are either uninformed or simply chose to not face the truth.

    There are good things that are being studied, immunotherapy and virology are among them. Will they find a cure within? Probably not, but the side effects are less and in treating with these new methods giving better quality of life is good even if quantity is not found.

    Yes, it is true, chemotherapy and radiation are a form of poisoning to the body, to deny that is to deny scientific evidence. Chemo history has its birth with mustard gas, radiation a known dangerous source for weaponry. Each discovery was not for good health but for destruction of the human body. Whether in small doses or in large, there are consequences. To tell someone that it is good is wrong. Chemo and radiation are not warm and cuddly, they are brutal to the body. If you wanted your wife to believe it was warm and cuddly, and she thought otherwise, that is not what killed her, nor did your lack of trying to tell her chemo was good, I do not know her case, I cannot comment specifically. Again, I know the loss of a loved one is hard. There are regrets, guilt and finger-pointing; the latter does not bring her back, it was her body and her choices were hers.

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