Context: Pelvic fractures, including hip fractures, are a major source of morbidity and mortality in older women. Although therapeutic pelvic irradiation could increase the risk of such fractures, this effect has not been studied.
Objective: To determine if women who undergo pelvic irradiation for pelvic malignancies (anal, cervical, or rectal cancers) have a higher rate of pelvic fracture than women with pelvic malignancies who do not undergo irradiation.
Design, setting, and participants: We conducted a retrospective cohort study using Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) cancer registry data linked to Medicare claims data. A total of 6428 women aged 65 years and older diagnosed with pelvic malignancies from 1986 through 1999 were included. We compared results for women who did (n = 2855) vs did not (n = 3573) undergo radiation therapy. To assess the influence of selection bias, we also evaluated the effect of irradiation on osteoporotic fractures in nonirradiated sites (arm and spine).
Main outcome measure: We evaluated the effect of irradiation on the incidence of pelvic fractures over time, and adjusted for potential confounders using a proportional hazards model.
Results: Women who underwent radiation therapy were more likely to have a pelvic fracture than women who did not undergo radiation therapy (cumulative 5-year fracture rate, 14.0% vs 7.5% in women with anal cancer, 8.2% vs 5.9% in women with cervical cancer, and 11.2% vs 8.7% in women with rectal cancer); the difference was statistically significant and most fractures (90%) were hip fractures. We controlled for potential confounders including age, race, cancer stage, and geographic location. The impact of irradiation varied by cancer site: treatment for anal cancer was associated with a higher risk of pelvic fractures (hazard ratio, 3.16; 95% confidence interval, 1.48-6.73); than for cervical cancer (hazard ratio, 1.66; 95% confidence interval, 1.06-2.59); or rectal cancer (hazard ratio, 1.65; 95% confidence interval, 1.33-2.05). No statistically significant difference was found in the rate of arm or spine fractures between the irradiated and nonirradiated groups (hazard ratio, 1.15; 95% confidence interval, 0.89-1.48).
Conclusions: Pelvic irradiation substantially increases the risk of pelvic fractures in older women. Given the high baseline risk of pelvic fracture, this finding is of particular concern.