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Bone Cancer: Symptoms, causes, prevention, and treatment

Team AckoSept 15, 2022

Compared to other types of cancers, Bone Cancer is not that common. Its exact cause is also not clear. This type of cancer is known to emerge in the skeletal system, grow aggressively, and invade other body parts. Scary, right? But don’t panic. This detailed article offers insights about Bone Cancer, its types, signs, causes and risk factors, treatment options, and prevention methods so that you can take timely action.

Bone Cancer

What is Bone Cancer?

Bone Cancer occurs when abnormal tumours are formed in the bone. These are also called bone sarcomas. These tumours consist of the mass of tissues and cells that grow out of control and eventually destroy normal bone tissues. It can occur in any bone. When treated in the early stage, treatment becomes effective. 

Types of Bone Cancer

There are two forms of this type of cancer, primary and secondary. 

Primary Bone Cancer

This cancer starts in the bone itself, and when it grows, it can destroy the bone. When left untreated, it can invade other parts. There are four types of Primary Bone Cancer, which are as follows.

  • Ewing sarcoma: It develops in the ribs, leg, upper arm, and pelvis. This cancer affects people ages 5 to 20.

  • Osteosarcoma: In this type, the cancer is formed around the knee and upper arm. It occurs in teenagers and children. 

  • Chondrosarcoma: It develops in the shoulder, arm, leg, pelvis, and hip. It shows up in people between the ages of 40 to 70.

  • Chordoma: It begins in the bone of the spine and affects more males than females.

Secondary Bone Cancer

It occurs when cancer begins in other body parts, such as the lungs, and spreads to the bones. It is called Metastatic Cancer, as cancer moves from one body part to another. Generally, Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer, and Prostate Cancer spread to the bone.

Bone Cancer symptoms

Following are the common signs of this type of cancer.

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Pain and swelling around the bone

  • Night sweats

  • Bone pain that wakes the individual up at night

  • Pain that gets worse with activity

  • Limping

Though pain is the most common symptom, some people with this type of cancer may experience dull or no pain. Also, fever, weight loss, and weak bones that lead to fractures are some less-common signs. People should see the doctor if they develop bone pain that worsens at night, comes and goes, and does not get better by consuming over-the-counter pain relievers.

What causes Bone Cancer?

The exact causes of this cancer are still not known. However, certain factors make one prone to it. The main causes and risk factors are as follows.

  • Those who have undergone stem cell transplants, high doses of radiation therapy, or have consumed chemotherapy drugs for other cancer treatments have higher chances of being diagnosed with Bone Cancer.

  • If there’s atypical cellular growth where the cells continue to live even when they are supposed to die, then they can begin forming tumours.

  • Those who have had multiple tumours in the cartilage are at a higher risk of developing the same.

  • Having a family history of Bone Cancer increases the odds. Also, a genetic mutation can happen as a result of radiation therapy.

  • Those having Bloom Syndrome, Paget's Disease of Bone, Rothmund-Thomson Syndrome, Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, and Eye Cancer have more chances of getting it.

Different stages of Bone Cancer

The stages state where the cancer is and what its size is. There are four stages of Bone Cancer, which are as follows.

Stage 1 

It is low-grade and treatable. Here, the tumour is around 8 centimetres and is in its original place.

Stage 2

Here, the tumour is of the same size as Stage 1 (around 8 centimetres), but still, it is considered high-grade.

Stage 3

It is high-grade as the cancer cells have spread to at least two areas of the same bone.

Stage 4

It is the advanced stage where the tumour has invaded other body parts such as lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and other organs.

How is Bone Cancer screened and diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about the signs and the personal and family medical history of the individual. Also, the physician can perform physical examinations and order the following diagnostic tests. 

  • Biopsy: In this process, tissue from the Bone Tumour is removed and is tested to understand if it is benign, primary, or secondary.

  • X-ray: It shows the size, location, and shape of a Bone Tumour.

  • MRI scans: It creates detailed pictures of the areas inside the body without using X-rays.

  • CT scans: It uses a combination of rotating X-ray machines and computer technology to produce a series of three-dimensional images from different angles around the body. 

  • Bone scans: A technician injects a small amount of radioactive material into the vein, which gathers in the bone, and then the scanner scans it. It helps determine the active disease of the bone.

  • PET scans: A specialist injects small radioactive glucose into a vein and uses a scanner to spot cancer cells. It examines the organs for the disease.

  • Blood tests: These tests determine the levels of two different enzymes; high levels of these enzymes denote that the cells are growing out of control.

Treatment options for Bone Cancer

The treatment of this type of cancer totally depends on the stage, age, size, and location of the tumour. For benign tumours, the doctor will suggest medications. If the tumours are cancerous, then the doctor might recommend the following treatments based on the patient.

Limb salvage surgery

It involves the removal of the part of the bone with cancer. After that, a metallic implant is placed in that area. 

Radiation therapy

In this process, strong X-rays are used to destroy cancerous cells. It can be used after the surgery to kill lingering cancer cells. 

Chemotherapy 

It uses cancer drugs to kill tumour cells. The drugs are injected into a vein where they go into the bloodstream and spread in the body. The doctor may count on chemo before or after surgery.

Amputation

If the tumour reaches the blood vessels or if it is large and cannot be treated with other options, then the doctor may remove that limb. After that, the individual may get a prosthetic limb.

Targeted therapy

It involves the use of drugs that identify and kill cancerous cells without affecting normal cells.

Drugs

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the following drugs can be used for treating this type of cancer. Please consult your doctor before taking any medication/drugs. 

  1. Doxorubicin Hydrochloride

  2. Zoledronic Acid

  3. Cosmegen (Dactinomycin)

  4. Trexall (Methotrexate Sodium)

  5. Zometa

  6. Dactinomycin

  7. Methotrexate Sodium

  8. Denosumab

  9. Xgeva (Denosumab)

How to prevent the cancer of bones

As the exact causes are unknown, there is no way one can prevent this type of cancer. However, early detection can help treat cancer successfully. That said, people must consult the doctor if they notice any signs that are mentioned in the above sections of this article. 

Frequently asked questions

Listed below are the most commonly asked questions about Bone Tumour/Bone Cancer.

Does Bone Cancer spread fast?

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The pace of the spread varies on a case-by-case basis, as Bone Cancer can grow slowly, quickly, or aggressively.

Who is most likely to be diagnosed with Bone Cancer (cancer of bone)?

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Younger and older people both are prone to this type of cancer. Chondrosarcoma affects older people. On the other hand, younger people are at a higher risk of developing Osteosarcoma.

How is a bone tumour diagnosed early?

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A biopsy is the best way of diagnosing cancer. It determines the grade and the type of cancer.

Is a bone scan painful?

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It is usually painless, and no anaesthesia is required. However, patients with joint or bone pain may feel uncomfortable during the scan.

What does a bone tumour feel like?

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One will experience tenderness in the affected bone, and the pain will come and go, which increases at night.

Is the cancer of bone terminal?

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Usually, it is not fatal, but some might succumb to it, whereas others will make a complete recovery.

How can you tell the difference between Bone Cancer and Arthritis?

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In a bone tumour, one experiences pain in the affected area. The pain is sharp if it is associated with a fracture. Those with arthritis will feel pain in the affected joint only.

References:

https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/drugs/bone

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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