When you have bone cancer, abnormal cells multiply and form tumors in the bones. The cancer damages or destroys bones, nerves, blood vessels, and other tissues. The disease is usually life threatening. If cancerous cells get into the bloodstream, they can spread to other parts of the body and affect healthy organs, usually the lungs. However, successful treatment is possible, particularly if the cancer is found early.
When bone cancer starts in the bone, it is called primary bone cancer. Types of primary bone cancer and the areas usually affected are:
The most common bone cancers that affect young people are osteogenic sarcoma and, less often, Ewing's sarcoma. Chondrosarcoma affects adults and is much less common.
Primary bone cancer is rare in adults. Adults are more at risk for primary bone cancer if they:
Adults usually get bone cancer when a cancer from somewhere else in the body spreads to their bones. This type of bone cancer is called secondary or metastatic bone cancer. The most common places where a cancer starts before spreading to the bones are the lungs, women's breasts, men's prostate gland, and the kidneys.
The main signs and symptoms of osteogenic sarcoma are pain, tenderness, and swelling, usually just above the knee.
The main signs and symptoms of metastatic bone cancer in adults are:
Sometimes, depending on where the cancer started, the bones may actually be thicker than normal. This is seen most often in cancer that has spread from the prostate. It happens less often from breast cancer. More often the affected bones have holes in them from the cancer. The holes weaken the bones. The bones may be fragile and may break, even without a fall or other trauma. The broken bone may be the first sign of bone cancer.
Bone cancer of the spine may collapse or crush the bones of the spine (vertebrae). This may damage the spinal cord, causing weakness or even paralysis.
Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about the history of pain and swelling in your bones or joints. You may have tests, such as:
The treatment depends on the type of cancer, where the cancer started, how advanced it is, and the parts of the body affected. Possible treatments are:
Often, more than 1 treatment is used.
In advanced cases, treatment may slow or temporarily stop the growth of the cancer. Treatment may even shrink the cancer for a time. Treatment may ease symptoms for up to 4 or 5 years and sometimes longer.
The effects of bone cancer vary depending on the type of cancer, the extent of the disease when found, and when treatment began. Your age and physical condition are important factors as well. The chances for successful treatment are best when the cancer is found and treated early. Metastatic cancer to bones is almost never curable.
Ask your healthcare provider any questions you may have about treatments, side effects of treatments, and your chances for recovery. It is important to discuss your concerns with your provider.
During your treatment for bone cancer, follow these guidelines:
For more information on cancer, contact:
You may be able to lower your risk of recurrence or spread of bone cancer by: