Bone cancer is a sarcoma (cancerous tumor) that arises in the bone. There are about 2,500 new cases each year in the U. S., making primary bone cancer relatively rare.
Secondary (or metastatic) bone cancer is cancer that spreads to the bone from another part of the body. This type of bone cancer occurs more commonly than primary bone cancer.
The most common types of primary bone cancer are:
Osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma occur more frequently in children and adolescents; chondrosarcoma occurs more often in adults.
Symptoms of bone cancer can vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. Pain is the most common symptom, as well as swelling and tenderness (from a tumor in or near a joint), or difficulty with normal movement. Other symptoms may include:
Having one or more of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean you have bone cancer. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may indicate other health problems.
The exact cause of most bone cancers is not known. There are no known lifestyle changes that one can make to lower the risk of developing bone cancer.
As with most cancers, certain risk factors are known to be linked to the bone cancer. A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of getting the disease. It is important to note that having one or multiple risk factors does not mean that you will get bone cancer. In fact, most people who develop bone cancer do not have any apparent risk factors.
Major risk factors for bone cancer are linked primarily to the condition of having had other diseases, specific treatments for other diseases, and patient age. The following conditions can slightly increase the risk of bone cancer. If you have any of these, you should ask your doctor for more information.
Other risk factors for developing bone cancer include:
Radiation Treatment: People who have been treated with radiation for an earlier cancer have a higher risk of getting bone cancer later. Being treated at a younger age and being treated with high doses of radiation increase the risk of bone cancer.
Bone Marrow Transplant: Bone cancer has been reported in a small number of subjects who have had bone marrow (stem cell) transplants.
Osteosarcoma and secondary bone cancers are diagnosed by an X-ray. An MRI and CT scan may also be performed to determine how much bone has been destroyed by the tumor and whether it has spread. A biopsy, a procedure to acquire a sample from the bone, will confirm the presence of cancer cells. There are two types of bone biopsy:
Needle Biopsy: A long, hollow needle is inserted through the skin to the area of bone to be tested. The needle removes a cylindrical sample of bone for examination. The patient is generally awake during this procedure, but a local anesthetic is used to numb the area.
Open Biopsy: This procedure requires that the patient be under general anesthesia (asleep). An incision is made, and the surgeon removes a tiny piece of bone from the suspected area for examination under a microscope.
Surgery is often the primary treatment for sarcoma, but radiation therapy and chemotherapy also play important roles. One or both may be recommended to shrink the tumor and make it operable, to spare a limb, to make a less extensive surgical procedure possible and/or to ensure microscopic cancer cells are destroyed.
Cancer is a journey that no one needs to take alone. There are many forms of support to help you through every stage of diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Whether you meet with other cancer survivors like yourself, use complementary therapies or individual coping mechanisms, support is available. Listed below are just some of the ways to find help and hope.
Getting together with other cancer patients in a support group is a valuable coping tool. Support groups are usually focused on a single disease or topic, such as breast cancer survivors or people coping with life-changing side effects from their cancer or cancer therapy. These groups allow participants to meet others like themselves and seek strength from each other. Most major cities and cancer hospitals offer support groups that meet weekly or monthly. There are also dozens of online support Web sites or message boards for those who may not have access to a traditional meeting.
Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with cancer treatment, in an effort to reduce treatment side effects, ease depression and anxiety and help cancer patients take their mind off the negative aspects of their situation. Complementary therapies may include mind-body exercises like yoga, Tai Chi and Qi gong; visualization or guided imagery; using art or music as therapy and self-expression, and traditional Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.
Staying physically active as much as possible during cancer treatment has many positive benefits. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone that helps elevate mood, as well as decreasing feelings of fatigue.
Exercises for cancer patients can range from simple stretches done in the bed or chair, to more active pursuits such as walking or light gardening work. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Check with your doctor before attempting any physical activity to make sure you are up to it.
Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cancer treatment experience. It may be as simple as recording symptoms and side effects into a notebook, or may include personal emotions and opinions about what they may be going through. Journals can be private, like a diary, or shared with loved ones and even strangers.
Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet to share their cancer journey with the world at large and to seek out others with similar experiences. Many cancer patients have begun their own Web log, or “blog” to publicize their battle with cancer. Twitter, a mini-blogging technology that limits posts to 140 characters, has also proven to be a helpful tool for cancer patients to keep friends updated and reach out to others.