Uncontrolled growth of cells in the bone is called bone cancer. Read this article to know more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment
The word cancer refers to the growth of abnormal cells in the body. Bone cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of these cells in the bone. When cancer occurs in the skeletal system, it starts destroying the tissue. It can instantly spread to different organs such as the lungs. The treatment required for bone cancer is surgery.
There are two main types of cancer. They are primary and secondary bone cancer. In primary bone cancer type, cancer begins to develop directly in the cells of the bone. Secondary bone cancer type occurs when cancers begin to develop in other organs due to metastasis. Metastasis is the spread from the initial site to another site.
Bone cancers can be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors are non-cancerous conditions, and malignant tumors are serious cancerous conditions. Benign tumors do not spread beyond their initial site. Malignant tumors are very aggressive. They have a very high risk of growing and spreading.
The examples of benign tumors are:
Aneurysmal bone cyst.
Fibrous dysplasia of the bone.
Osteoblastoma and giant cell tumors may start as a benign tumor and develop into a malignant one. Once they become aggressive, they begin to cause damage to the adjacent cells.
Examples of malignant primary bone tumors include:
Malignant fibrous histiocytoma.
Only the malignant ones are considered as cancerous.
This is the type of cancer that develops in the bone-forming cells called osteoblasts. Patients with Paget’s disease have a high risk of osteosarcoma.
Ewing’s sarcoma occurs in the bones of the pelvis, chest wall, or thighbone. It is known to occur in muscles, soft tissues, and blood vessels. It is a fast-growing one.
Chondrosarcoma is seen in adults. It occurs in the shoulders and pelvis.
Chondroma is a rare cancer of the spine. It is seen in adults.
The most common bone cancer type in adults is secondary bone cancer. They develop when cancer metastasis to the bone from other sites in the body. Most of the cancers can spread to the bone cells. People who are suffering from breast and prostate cancer have a high risk of developing secondary bone cancer. These types of cancers can cause fractures, pain, and hypercalcemia.
The symptoms or signs experienced by patients with bone cancer are:
Pain. When a bone tumor grows, it might hit the healthy bone tissue and causes pain. The initial symptom of bone cancer is pain. This may be accompanied by swelling in the location of the tumor. The pain may get severe with movements.
Joint Swelling. A tumor that is occurring near a joint may cause the swelling. This might cause tenderness over the affected joints. There may be stiffness in the joints also.
Difficulty in Walking. If a bone involving the tumor fractures, the function of the particular bone may be lost. If the fracture occurs in the leg, there will be difficulty in walking. This is known as limping.
The other symptoms are:
The causes of bone cancer are not known. However, there are certain factors contributing to the aggressive growth of tumors.
The high dosage of radiation may be a contributing factor.
Abnormal Cellular Growth:
Healthy cells begin to divide rapidly and replace older cells. After the completion of the dividing process, the abnormal cells start living.
Cancer Treatment. Patients who have received radiation and chemotherapy drugs are at high risk.
Health Conditions. Certain cancers such as retinoblastoma (eye cancer) can make a person more susceptible to bone cancer.
Family History. If your family member is known to have cancer, you might probably have a risk of getting bone cancer.
The diagnosis and treatment always require a multidisciplinary approach. The oncologists take the help of various tests and tools to diagnose bone cancer. The major laboratory tests are:
There are two biopsy techniques to identify bone cancer. They are:
Needle Biopsy: The doctor will anesthetize the involved area with local anesthetic agents before injecting a needle. Then samples are collected from the site.
Surgical Biopsy: This is performed by a doctor under general anesthesia. The doctor will remove a sample of the tissue or the whole tumor by incision. The process of removing the particular tissue is called an incisional biopsy. The process of removing the whole tumor is called an excisional biopsy.
Cancer gives a different appearance to the bone. The affected bone looks ragged, and it might have a hole in it. A chest X-ray might help you determine whether cancer has spread to the lungs.
Bone cancer can identify whether the tumor has spread to other organs. This test is highly sensitive. It can detect metastases even before they could appear on a regular X-ray.
Magnetic resonance imaging may help to find the outline of a tumor. It might also identify the spread to the spinal cord and brain.
Computed tomography scans are used to identify cancer in areas which are difficult to be found out by other procedures. It can also be used to guide the biopsy needle during a biopsy procedure.
Positron emission tomography scans do not show many details. But when they often are performed in combination with computed tomography scans, the diagnosis results are more accurate.
After the test results are obtained, doctors will describe the severity of bone cancer. Staging helps a person to understand the severity and degree of spread of the tumor.
Low Grade. In low grade, the cancer cells might seem like normal cells. They are slow-growing and do not spread much.
High Grade. In high grade,the cancer cells are abnormal. They grow rapidly.
There are different stages of bone cancer. They are:
Stage 1: Cancer contains low-grade cells. It is totally localized, and there is no spreading of the cells beyond the bone.
Stage 2: Cancer contains high-grade cells. It is totally localized, and there is no spread beyond the bone.
Stage 3: These are several high-grade tumors occurring in the same bone.
Stage 4: Cancer in this stage, can spread to other parts. It is an advanced stage.
Depending on the stage and location of the disease, there are various treatment options. The bone cancer experts will suggest a treatment plan that might work for you.
The treatment options are:
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be recommended for a specific type of bone cancer. Anti-cancer drugs are prescribed by doctors, as they are good at identifying and attacking the cancer cells.
Surgery: Many surgeries might be necessary depending on the location and also the extent of the tumor.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy might require highly skilled healthcare professionals to succeed in cancer treatment.
Targeted Therapy: In targeted therapy, drugs are prescribed. It might be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy.
Bone cancer can begin at any part of bone in the body. The commonly involved bones are long bones of the arms and legs. Pelvic bones are also affected. It is a rare form of cancer. The noncancerous type of bone cancers are more common than the cancerous type of bone cancer.
The pain and fractures caused in the bone can be treated effectively. If the bone cancer has spread to different regions of the body, then it is difficult to cure bone cancer. Bone cancer can be easily cured in earlier stages. In most cases, cancer can be cured completely.
Cancer that is formed directly in the bone or surrounding cartilaginous tissue is known as primary bone cancer. Cancer that has occurred due to the spreading of primary cancer is known as secondary cancer. Primary bone cancer is more serious and life-threatening than secondary bone cancer.
The average life expectancy of patients with bone cancer are five years. The majority of the patients get a permanent cure after proper treatment. The diagnosis at the earlier stage would add to the lifespan of the individual. You can get help from your doctor to make the treatment more efficient.
The majority of bone cancers are known to spread slowly. The common type of bone cancer, chondrosarcoma, is also known to have a slow degree of progression. The spreading of cancer depends on the health status of the individual. People who have poor immune conditions have a faster rate of spreading of cancer.
People belonging to the age of 10-30 years are most likely to be affected by bone cancer. A few patients who were noted to be affected by osteosarcoma were 60-70 years old. The occurrence of bone cancer is very rare in middle-aged people. Men are most commonly affected than women.
The common sign of bone cancer is bone pain. It occurs as a dull pain in some patients, while in others, a deep ache happens in the affected site. Pain is known to aggravate during the nighttime and in situations where the individual is very active.
Stage 4 is the last stage of bone cancer. In this stage, cancer has spread to different tissues beyond the bone. The tumor might have grown into any abnormal size along with the involvement of the lymph nodes.
The causes of bone cancer are:
- Abnormal growth of the cell.
- The complication of radiation therapy. An increase in the patient's dosage of radiation will serve as a cause for bone cancer.
- Gene mutation.
Yes, bone cancer can be seen using X-ray. In the presence of cancer, the bone appears in a different manner. The affected sites of the bone might look ragged along with a hole in it. You should get recommendations from your doctor before going for a diagnostic procedure.
The cancer of the pelvic bone is a life-threatening condition. The patient will suffer weakness in the hip bones along with bone pain. The patient might feel tired all the time and experiences severe weight loss. The complete cure for pelvic bone cancer is not possible. The quality of life is severely disturbed in patients with pelvic bone cancer.
Yes, bone cancer can be cured with chemotherapy, but it works efficiently only for a few types of bone cancer. The doctors prescribe the anti-cancer drug because these drugs are good in identifying the cancer cells.
Bone cancer can be checked using the following diagnostic methods:
- Bone scan.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
- CT scan.
The pain in bone cancer is always unpredictable. The pain is known to be intermittent. After some time, it becomes more severe and constant. Pain is aggravated by movements and especially during the night time. If you are experiencing severe pain, contact your doctor immediately.
Last reviewed at:
24 Jun 2022 - 6 min read
Query: Hi doctor, My ESR is too high that is 25 mm/hr. Granulocytes % is high and lymphocytes % is low. The main thing is the RDW is low. I am having too much body pain and leg pain in my body. Even pain-killers not working at all. Too much pain. I am having trouble to move my arms and legs when I wake up... Read Full »
Query: Hi doctor, Why are men generally affected by cancer than women? Do they have less tumor suppressor genes (p53) than women? Or is there a different reason entirely? Read Full »
Query: Hi doctor, My mother is suffering with breast cancer as primary and now there is brain metastasis. The disease has spread to all the parts of the body including the bones. I have attached her PET scan for your reference. We are taking the treatment for the disease and her physical condition was ... Read Full »
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