Bone Pain

Updated 
August 31, 2015

Many things can cause bone pain during breast cancer treatment. These include side effects from hormonal therapies, bone fractures or breaks, and cancer itself.

What Causes Bone Pain?

To find out the cause of your pain, describe it to your healthcare providerinfo-icon. Write down which symptoms you have and how long you’ve had them. Rate your discomfort on a scale of 1 (not at all uncomfortable) to 10 (the most uncomfortable you have ever been). Be as specific as possible, and let your team know how much bone pain impacts your life.

Here are some of the major reasons for bone pain:

TreatmentsHormonal therapyinfo-icon can cause bone pain. It is very common to feel bone and joint paininfo-icon from aromatase inhibitors, or AIs. Up to half of women who take AIs feel aches or pains in their joints, bones and muscles. You might also feel general stiffness. If you have a history of arthritis, ovarian suppressioninfo-icon can cause similar side effects. It’s also possible to feel bone and joint pain from tamoxifen and from growth factors given for neutropenia such as filgrastim (Neupogen) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta).

If you feel jaw pain, tell your doctor right away, especially if you are taking a bisphosphonateinfo-icon medicineinfo-icon. Bisphosphonates can cause a rare and serious problem in the jaw bone called osteonecrosis of the jawinfo-icon.

FracturesSome fractures do not cause pain. You might not even know about them until your providers see them on a radiologyinfo-icon test. Even though these fractures don’t hurt, they raise concerns about your bone health.

Serious bone loss, or osteoporosisinfo-icon, weakens bones to the point they might break more easily. This can cause pain. Broken bone pain can become chronicinfo-icon, so it’s important to report it to your team. Depending on the level of your pain, fractures could impair your ability to function as you normally would.

If the bones in your back weaken, compress and collapse, you may have a spinal compression fracture. This can cause severe pain and take a long time to heal.

How Can I Avoid Bone Pain or Manage it if it Occurs?

Talk with your providers about your pain. Since bone and joint paininfo-icon are so common with hormonal therapyinfo-icon, your team may have good tips for you. You may be able to use over-the-counterinfo-icon pain relievers or prescriptioninfo-icon medicines. Studies suggest acupuncture can be helpful for joint pain related to AIs. Exercise, massage, yoga and stretching may also help. You could also discuss with your team whether glucosamine and chondroitin, a supplement, may be appropriate for you.

If bone and joint pain from hormonal therapy is severe and ongoing, it may be possible to switch you to a different medicineinfo-icon. The AIs work in similar ways but different medicines may not cause the same side effects for you.

If you feel bone pain, your doctor may send you for a bone scaninfo-icon to check for metastases, or cancer spread, in the bone. This test does not look for bone mineral density or osteoporosisinfo-icon. Getting a bone scan does not mean you have metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer. Depending on your doctor, you might get a bone scan with an early-stage breast cancerinfo-icon diagnosisinfo-icon, to rule out metastasisinfo-icon.

If you have metastatic breast cancer, learn more about ongoing treatment and bone pain.

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