Overview of bone cancer
Bone cancer is a type of cancer that originated in the bones and in which cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors. Metastases for bone cancer can be anywhere in the body, but it most commonly affects the long bones that make up the arms and legs.
Most bone cancers are other types of cancers that go on to affect the bone and primary bone cancer is rare. Although bone cancer can occur at any age, the most common types occur in children and young adults. To be categorized as a bone cancer the disease has to start in the bone. However, cancer that starts elsewhere of even cancer that arises in the bone marrow is not considered as a bone cancer.
Symptoms of bone cancer
The primary sign for bone cancer symptoms is related to pain in the affected bone. The pain starts intermittently and during physical activities but becomes chronic as the condition worsens. There is also some swelling in the area where there is a painful bone and might also show a lump or a tumor.
There are also increased chances of fractures as a bone cancer generally weakens the bones. Other symptoms of bone cancer include problems like weight loss and fatigue.
Causes of bone cancer
Like most cases of cancer it is not clear what causes bone cancer. What is known is the fact that in bone cancer the DNA of the cells are altered that result in their uncontrollable growth and subsequently invading others organs and tissues.
Types of bone cancer
There are different types of bone cancer namely:
Osteosarcoma – This is the most common primary malignant bone cancer that mostly occurs in children and young adults. It affects the long bones of the arms and legs and can spread at a rapid pace and go on to spread to the lungs
Ewing's Sarcoma – This is another type of bone cancer that is known for aggressive nature. This cancer too affects people of younger age group and more prevalent among male. It most commonly occurs in the middle of the long bones of the arms and legs.
Chondrosarcoma – Mostly affecting older adults, this type of cancer begins at the cartilage of the bones. It is considered the second most common bone tumor and is slightly more common in males and can potentially spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. Chondrosarcoma most commonly affects the bones of the pelvis and hips.
Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) – This cancer affects the soft tissues, including muscle, ligaments, tendons, and fat. MFH mostly occurs in older adults and has a low survival rate for patients.
Fibrosarcoma – This is a rare type of bone cancer and mostly affects the soft tissues of the leg behind the knee.
Chordoma – This is a very rare tumor with very low chances of survival. It occurs in adults over 30 years of age and is about twice as common in males as females. It most commonly affects either the lower or upper end of the spinal column.
Risk factors for bone cancer
There are no specific risk factors for bone cancer but certain rare genetic syndromes passed through family lines increase the risk of bone cancer. Also Paget's disease increases the chance of bone cancer as well as radiation therapy for other forms of cancer.
Diagnosis of bone cancer
The simplest method to detect bone cancer is to undergo an X-ray. A bone that suffers from cancer may look frayed and out of shape. Other tests to determine bone cancer include Computed tomography (CT) scans
, which give cross-sectional images of the bone and body. A CT scan can also help determine the stage of a cancer and also if it is likely to spread to other organs.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
is yet another way to diagnose bone cancer. Sometimes a contrast material maybe injected to see the tumor better. MRI scans are often considered the best test for detecting bone cancer. Other tests to determine bone cancer include Radionuclide bone scans, Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
and Biopsy of the tumor. In a biopsy a sample of tissue from a tumor is taken to determine if it is cancerous.
Treatment for bone cancer
is often the first line of offense against bone cancer and this may involve removing the bone affected by the cancer, removal of an arm or leg (amputation) and surgical removing the area where cancer has spread.
Methods like chemotherapy and radiotherapy play an essential part in the integrated management of these patients. A majority of bone tumors would receive chemotherapy while some like Ewing's sarcoma would benefit from additional radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy for bone cancer
Radiotherapy as a method of treatment relies on getting the patient exposed to high energy X-Rays to treat cancer. This type of technique is helpful in cases where surgery many not be able to remove or reach the affected part in the body. Radiotherapy also precedes a surgery in most cases to reduce the chances of the cancer appearing after the surgery. In certain cases it may also be able to minimize the affects of a cancer that proves resilient to chemotherapy treatment. Shrinking a cancer with radiotherapy before surgery can make it easier to remove.
Chemotherapy of bone cancer
Chemotherapy or chemo is a technique which uses chemicals to treat cancer. Often injected into the veins, muscles or taken orally, the treatment is effective against various forms of cancer including bone cancer. Like Radiotherapy, chemo is often used in conjunction with a surgery to effectively treat cancer and prevent it from recurring. The treatment, however, has side effects like loss of hair, fatigue and pain in certain cases.
Prevention and Care of bone cancer
Since the cause of bone cancer is unknown, there is little knowledge or reference on the precaution that needs to be taken. However, it is universally understood that smoking is harmful for cancer and the same applies to bone cancer.
For a person who has been diagnosed with bone cancer, it is important to know the different lines of treatment, the process of treatment and find support in peer groups which aim at connecting cancer patients. Eating well, relaxing and getting enough rest can help manage the stress and fatigue of cancer but it is also important to remember that staying active is also necessary for the overall well being of the body.
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Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: August 13, 2013