Bone cancer is an uncontrolled, abnormal tumorous growth in the bone. Bone cancer is otherwise uncommon; however, cancers can occur in the bone due to metastasis of a cancer occurring in the other parts of the body like, lungs, kidneys, prostrate, thyroid, breast, etc.
Cancerous tumours that originate in the bone are called primary bone cancers and are very rare. They usually occur in children and adolescents, often developing in new tissue of growing bones, however, bone cancers can also occur in adults. Primary bone cancer is also known as osteosarcoma, whereas cancers that metastasize to the bones are called secondary bone cancers.
Bone cancer most commonly occurs in the bones of the arms and legs that are categorized as long bones. Bone cancer is caused mainly due to errors in the bone cell’s DNA, causing them to multiply and uncontrollably into a mass or a tumour. However, there are no clear indicators that specifically cause bone cancer.
About 8% of all cancers found worldwide are bone cancers. Out of this, 41 percent of bone cancers are primary cancers.
Bone cancers are of three main types –
- Osteosarcoma – Osteosarcoma or primary bone cancer is the most common type of bone cancers found in the bone cells.
- Chondrosarcoma – Tumours occurring in the bone cartilage cells is called chondrosarcoma. They are usually found in pelvis area, legs and arms of older and middle-aged adults.
- Ewing’s Sarcoma – Ewing’s sarcoma tends to occur in the immature nerve tissues in the marrow of the bone. They are commonly found in children and young adults.
The symptoms that indicate the presence of bone cancer are –
- Pain in the bones
- Tenderness and swelling in the localized area where the cancer is present.
- Weakening of the bones often leading to fractures
- Weight loss without concerted efforts to lose weight.
- Painless mass around the bones.
When should I visit the doctor?
If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, especially unexplained fractures, you should seek medical assistance. Once you consult a medical practitioner, you will be asked to undergo bone scans, CT scans, MRI’s, Positron Emission Tomography’s (PET) and X-rays of the concerning area.
If tumours are found, the doctor will conduct a biopsy of the tumours tissue to indicate malignancy. Bone cancers develop in stages I to IV,
- Stage I indicates a low grade cancer that has not spread to other parts,
- Stage II indicates a high grade cancer that has not spread to other parts
- Stage II indicates tumours found in more than two places in the same bone
- Stage IV indicates an aggressive and metastasized cancer of the bone.
The doctor will determine the stage the cancer has progressed to and then will begin treatment.
Treatment of bone cancer
The treatment given to a bone cancer patient largely depends upon the stage the cancer is in, and the overall health of the patient. As such, the type of cancer also determines the treatment to be given. Treatments that can be given to bone cancer patients include –
- Surgery – Surgery for bone cancer patients involves removing the entire cancer from the bones. Mostly the cancer is removed from the bone along with some part of healthy tissue. In such cases the lost bone is replaced with a healthy bone from another area in the body, or replaces the void with a metal prosthetic. In some cases, amputation of a limb is carried out. Surgery is usually prescribed for cancers of the first and second stage.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy uses drugs and chemicals to kill the cancerous cells. The drugs are administered intravenously and is often suggested when metastasis has occurred.
- Radiation therapy – High powered beams and X-rays are used to kill the cancer cells. Radiation therapy could be prescribed before surgery – to avoid amputation – or given to advanced stage patients to relieve symptoms of bone cancer.
These methods of treatment are often used in conjunction, depending upon the stage and type of cancer found.
Prognosis again depends upon the type of cancer, the site the cancer has occurred and the treatment given. In 2009, the mortality rate due to bone cancer was about 69%. However the five-year survival rate for cancers commonly detected in stage two is 40%.
The best way to prevent bone cancer is first to be educated about it, know its signs and symptoms and follow a healthy lifestyle. Avoid smoking and stress, and follow a healthy, balanced diet.