Expert Q&A

Calcium: Special Requirements During Cancer Treatment

What is my calcium requirement during cancer treatment?

Calcium is an essential mineral for bone health and blood regulation. In general, requirements for calcium are not different for cancer patients. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established Recommended Daily Intakes for calcium as well as other minerals and vitamins.

The Adequate Intake (AI) for calcium is:

  • 1300 milligrams a day for adolescents
  • 1000 milligrams a day for people between the ages of 19-50
  • 1200 milligrams a day for people over 51 years of age.

The Upper Limit (UL) for calcium is 2500 milligrams a day. The average American intake of calcium is 650 milligrams a day. 1 cup of milk has 300 milligrams of calcium. It is recommended to consume 3 to 4 servings of dairy rich foods everyday or to take a calcium supplement.

A few groups of people have special calcium needs:

  • Men with prostate cancer may want to limit their calcium intake and stay within the recommended parameters of 1000 to 1200 milligrams a day. Research is unclear at this time, but some studies show high calcium intake is associated with increased prostate cancer risk.

  • Cancer patients taking the steroid Prednisone should increase their calcium intake due to the bone leaching effects of this medication. People taking Prednisone need at least 1500 milligrams of calcium a day.
  • Women who have breast cancer and have undergone menopause should take at least 1200 milligrams of calcium daily to prevent early bone loss due to the lack of estrogen circulating in their bodies.

Regardless of a cancer diagnosis, calcium should be a regular part of your diet. Studies have suggested that eating a dairy-rich diet or taking calcium supplements, specifically calcium carbonate, may reduce the risk of colon cancer. While further investigation into the matter is necessary, the national Nurses' Health Study and Physicians' Health Study found that those who took 700 to 800 milligrams of calcium each day had a 40 to 50 percent decreased risk of developing colon cancer.

Dena McDowell, MS, RD
Contributing Expert

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