Overview of Bone Cancer
Bone cancer most commonly begins in the pelvis, arms, or legs. Even though these are the most common, it can begin in any bone in the body. Bone cancer is very rare. It is typically seen in less than 1% of all other cancers.
Bone cancer does not mean that the cancer has spread to the bones. For example, if you have a cancer such as breast cancer and the cancer spreads to the bones, it is still considered to be breast cancer. To be considered bone cancer, the cancer must have begun in the bones.
Bone cancer can affect any age of person. Surgery to remove the cancer is the most common form of treatment, but radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be used.
Symptoms of Bone Cancer
The most common symptoms of bone cancer include: unintended weight loss, weakening of the bones, swelling, tenderness, pain, and fatigue. You will want to see your physician when you have frequent pain, over-the counter medications do not help, and if it is worse at night.
Causes of Bone Cancer
There is no known cause of bone cancer in most cases. In rare cases, bone cancer can be associated with radiation exposure or hereditary factors.
Types of Bone Cancer
Bone cancers are classified by the type of cell that the cancer originated.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer that is found. This type of cancer is most commonly found in children or younger adults. It is most commonly found in leg or arm bones. In this type of bone cancer, the cells produce bone.
Chondrosarcoma is the next most common type of bone cancer. In this type of cancer, the cells produce cartilage. This is most commonly found in older adults and can be found in the pelvis, arms, or legs.
Ewing sarcoma can be found in the pelvis, arms, or legs. It is most commonly seen in children and young adults.
Risk Factors of Bone Cancer
There are no real risk factors or causes of bone cancer, but there are some things that can be attributed to an increased risk.
Some genetic syndromes may cause people to be at a higher risk for bone cancer, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome. In older adults, Paget’s disease of the bones can increase the risk of bone cancer as well. If you have been exposed to large doses of radiation, such as for radiation for cancer treatment, you are also at an increased risk for bone cancer.
Diagnosing Bone Cancer
An imaging test will be the first test typically done in an effort to diagnose bone cancer. An imaging test will be able to tell your physician the location and size of the tumors in the bones. They will also be able to see if the cancer has spread to another part of the body. The type of imaging test that is recommended will depend on the individual and their signs and symptoms.
The following imaging tests are most common: positron emission tomography (PET), computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scan, or an x-ray.
In some cases, your physician may want to get a biopsy after the imaging tests are complete. This biopsy will be able to tell your physician if the tumor is cancerous, the type of cancer, and also if the speed at which the cells are growing. Your physician will also decide on which biopsy to do based on future surgery needs. There are two types of biopsies that may be done. Your physician may want a surgical biopsy, which is when the physician will make a small incision on the skin and through the tumor. A needle biopsy is done when your physician inserts a needle through the skin and the tumor. This needle is able to extract a piece of the tumor.
Stages of Bone Cancer
Once the bone cancer has been confirmed, the physician will work to determine the stage of bone cancer that you have. Knowing the stage of cancer that you have will allow your physician to make decisions on your treatment. Your physician will look for the size, how fast it is growing, if it has spread to other areas of the body, and the number of bones that have been affected. The stages will range from 0 to IV. Stage 0, is the lowest stage and the tumor is very small and does not grow fast. In stage IV, the cancer is spreading fast.
Treatment of Bone Cancer
The treatment will be determined on the type and stage of your bone cancer. The various types and stages of bone cancer will require different types of treatment. In some cases, your physician may require a mixture of the various types of treatments.
Surgery is used to completely remove the tumor. During surgery, your physician will be able to remove the tumor in one piece and will also take a small surrounding portion. From the area that has been taken, the physician will be able to replace the tumor with bone from another area of your body or from a replacement made from metal or plastic. If the cancer is very large or complicated, it may be best to remove the limb.
Chemotherapy is a very common cancer treatment. Chemotherapy will work better on some types of cancer. It is not very effective for chondrosarcoma. On the other hand, it is essential in osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.
Radiation therapy uses beams of energy to kill the cancer. During this treatment, you will lie on a table while the machine moves around you to point the energy at certain parts of the body. Radiation can be an effective way to reduce the size of the cancer, which may make it easier to remove.
The type of treatment that you go through to treat your bone cancer will depend on the location and size of the bone cancer. Your physician may require a mixture of these treatments depending on individual cases. If you have questions about your treatment, write them all down and ask your physician.