Most of the time when someone is told they have bone cancer, the doctor is referring to a cancer that has come from somewhere else, like the breast, prostate or lung. Cancer cells from other parts of the body can travel through blood and tissue to infect healthy bone. It is important to know where the cancer came from so that it can be treated appropriately.
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About Bone Cancer
True bone cancers are called sarcomas; they can start in bone, muscle, tissue, blood vessels, fat tissue or other tissues. They can develop in any part of the body and are named for the specific body part where they originate.
Cancer that starts in the blood forming cell of the bone marrow can also be called bone cancer. These include leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Bone cancers account for less than 0.2 percent of all diagnosed cancers. They develop most often in adults over 50 and have seen decrease in occurrence due to the safety practices around heavily-regulated radioactive substances that have shown to cause this type of cancer. Technicians in faulty or damaged nuclear power plants are at the highest risk of exposure, but these cases are extremely rare.
Symptoms of Bone Cancer
- The most common complaint of patients with bone cancer is pain that may be worse at night or when the body part is in use. As the cancer grows, the pain will increase to a constant level and may affect a person’s everyday life.
- Bone fractures can occur from slight injuries or trauma.
- Masses, lumps or swelling found, depending on the tumor site.
At this time, researchers do not know exactly what causes bone cancer, though certain genetic disorders may increase your risk. These include:
Other risk factors include:
- In adults over 50, Paget disease has been linked to bone cancer, since it causes heavy, thick and brittle bones.
- Bones that have been exposed to radiation can have a higher risk of developing cancer. Typical X-rays of bones are not dangerous, but exposure to radioactive materials like radium and strontium can be due to mineral build-up in the bones.
- Osteosarcomas have been reported in some patients who have received bone marrow transplants, but researchers have been unable to provide a reason for the correlation and it cannot be definitively ruled as a cause.
If you have a family history of bone cancer, it is possible to test for hereditary cancer syndromes. One of CHI Saint Joseph Health's genetic counselors can work with you and your doctors to determine if you are at risk for certain cancers and steps that should be taken to prevent cancer cells and tumors.
There are no routine tests recommended to detect bone cancer early. Paying attention to signs or symptoms is the best way to ensure bone cancer is caught early.
If you find that you have bone cancer, rest assured you have some of the Commonwealth’s best experts by your side. Our dedicated team—including board-certified surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists and more specialists—will work closely with you to create a personalized treatment plan. This may include one or a combination of:
Surgery may be performed to remove small single tumors, but it is rarely used as a form of treatment.
Chemotherapy is usually used to treat bone cancer. It is most often given to prevent complications such as bone fractures and kidney damage. Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells with medicines delivered in varied cycles through either an IV or a pill. Whenever possible, CHI Saint Joseph Health uses newer medications that help minimize the side effects of chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to shrink or kill cancer cells. Radiation may also be used to help prevent recurrence of disease. These brief, painless treatments can be specifically directed at the part of the body where the cancer is located. Treatments are delivered by linear accelerators, where patients lie on a table in a specially designed room.
CHI Saint Joseph Health uses the most advanced technology available to target the tumor with extreme precision. Treatments include 3D conformal therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and volumetric modulated radiation therapy (VMAT). Image guided radiation therapy (IGRT) and use of a hexapod table ensure treatments are focused directly on the target, while minimizing dose to surrounding healthy tissue.
Bone Marrow Transplants
In some cases, a bone marrow transplant (also called a stem cell transplant) is an option. The procedure is used to replace damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells, which are immature cells in the bone marrow that give rise to all of your blood cells. A bone marrow transplant replaces bone marrow that either is not working properly or has been destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation.