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Bone Cancer

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Bone cancer is the one that begins in the bone. There can be two types of bone cancer, primary and secondary. Primary bone cancer is the one that begins in the bone and secondary bone cancer is the cancer from other parts of the body metastases to the bone. Let us go through more information related to bone cancer in the following paragraphs.

What is Bone Cancer?

Bone cancer, also called as bone tumor is an abnormal growth of cells or tissue in bone. These abnormal growths can be benign or malignant.

Types of bone cancer

Primary Bone Cancer

Cancers that begin in the bone are called as primary bone cancers. Most of these bone cancers are sarcomas, that is, cancers of the supporting tissue cells of the body. These cells include those of the bone, muscles, cartilage and ligaments. The basic cause of primary bone cancer is unknown. There are different types of primary bone cancers some of which include:

  • Osteosarcoma: The most common type of primary bone cancer is osteosarcoma. It is seen in children and teenagers. It can occur in any bone in the body, but very commonly seen affecting the bones of the legs and arms.
  • Edwing’s sarcoma: This cancer is seen in teenagers and affects the bones of the pelvis and legs. It can also occur in the soft tissues and called as soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Chondrosarcoma: This cancer is seen in people in the age group of 40 and above. It affects the bones of the shoulder blade, upper arm, ribs, pelvis or thighs.
  • Angiosarcoma: A common bone cancer that affects men over the age of 20. This cancer can affect any bone of the body. It can also affect more than one area of the body or of the same bone.
  • Chordoma: A very rare type of bone cancer that affects people within the 40 to 60 age group. Chordoma affects the bones in the middle of the face, skull as well as the spine.
  • Spindle cell sarcoma: This cancer affects people over the age group of 40. The four types of this cancer include the malignant fibrous histiocytoma, leiomyosarcoma, undifferentiated sarcoma as well as fibrosarcoma.

Secondary Bone Cancer

Cancers that spread from other organs to the bone are called as secondary bone cancers. Secondary bone cancers are mostly metastatic lesions and thus, incurable and often fatal.

Symptoms of Bone Cancer

Primary Bone Cancer Symptoms:

The most common symptoms of primary bone cancer include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the bone where the cancer appears. The pain never goes away and worsens with exercise or activity. This pain will worsen at night when all muscles relax. In children, the pain is often thought of a ‘growing pangs’. However, persistent pain should be brought to the notice of a doctor.
  • Cancer around the joint may restrict movement and make it difficult to move the joint. In some it may lead to a limp. Spinal tumors or cancers may lead to numbness, tingling or weakness of the limbs.
  • Fractures after a minor fall or without apparent reason is a sign of bone cancer. This type of fracture is called as pathological fracture.
  • Other symptoms of primary bone cancer include excessive tiredness, fever, sweating, loss of weight, etc. in some people.
  • Some may find a painless mass in any part of the body.

Secondary Bone Cancer Symptoms

The common symptoms of secondary bone cancer include:

  • Dull, persistent pain along with tenderness and swelling in the affected area.
  • Minor accident or fall will lead to pathological fracture.
  • High levels of calcium, that is, hypercalcemia in the blood. This leads to constipation, fatigue, nausea, thirst and mental confusion.
  • Spinal compression due to the pressure of the cancer affecting the spine. This leads to tingling, numbness and weakness of the limbs.
  • Secondary bone cancer may lead to decrease in red blood cell production leading to anemia, breathlessness and tiredness.
  • It will also reduce the white blood cells count leading to recurrent infections.
  • Low platelet count will lead to bruising and bleeding.

Diagnosis of Bone Cancer

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Bone cancer is often detected when one visits their family doctor regarding the persistent aches and pain. The tests that help determine bone cancer include:

  • Bone X-ray
  • CT Scan
  • MRI
  • Bone scan
  • PET scans
  • Biopsy of the tumor by core needle biopsy or surgical biopsy

Treatment for Bone Cancer

The treatment and management of bone cancer depend on the type of cancer. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy and radiation
  • Medications such as non-hormonal bisphosphonates, metastron, etc.
  • Surgical treatment includes amputation. Amputation may help in removal of the affected bone and preventing the spread of cancer to other bones. Amputation may involve limb amputation or limb sparing surgery. In the latter, the limb is saved by removing just the affected bone and replacing it with an artificial bone or bone from another part of the body.

Prognosis

The prognosis depends on the type of bone cancer. Non-cancerous tumors have a better outcome than the cancerous ones. However, in some cases, the benign cancers turn cancerous and malignant. Thus, the prognosis is better when the cancer has not spread a lot an is caught in the early stages.

This was all about bone cancer. There are many support groups and therapies that help one overcome the trauma and pain due to bone cancer. A positive outlook will help improve the quality of life of the affected person.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 15, 2015