If you, or someone you love, has been diagnosed with cancer, you may not know what to do. Here's a list of tips and ways to cope with a cancer diagnosis.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is the general name for a group of over 100 diseases in which cells in a part of the body become abnormal and divide uncontrollably. A tumor, or malignant growth, is one result of this mass division of cells.
Cancer is formed when healthy cells mutate, turning normal cells into abnormal. The abnormality allows those cells to multiply rapidly instead of dying off as they should.
Read more about cancer.
What is Bone Cancer?
Our bones are primarily made up of an outer membrane (the periosteum) containing blood vessels that provide nourishment, a layer of compact bone, and layers of cancellous bone which are more sponge-like. In our larger bones, the cancellous bone protects a layer of bone found in the very center called bone marrow. This marrow is a thick, jelly-like substance that produces red and white blood cells, as well as platelets.
A Bone Tumor is an abnormal mass of cells growing within the bone that may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). A cancerous bone tumor is only referred to as Bone Cancer if it originates within the bone itself. It is also called Primary Bone Cancer to indicate the cancer growth began inside the bone.
Cancer in the bones that is caused by a cancer spreading from another location in the body is named after the original source, such as breast cancer or lung cancer. The most common cancers that spread to the bone include prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and kidney cancer.
What are the Types of Bone Cancer?
There are several types of bone tumors, and subtypes of benign and malignant tumors.
Primary Bone Tumors:
- Benign Tumors:
- Aneurysmal bone cyst: osteolytic bone neoplasm with blood filled sacs
- Enchondroma: cartilage cyst within the bone marrow
- Fibrous dysplasia of bone: bone thinning with lesions within the bone
- Giant cell tumor of the bone: osteoclast-like cells
- Osteochondroma: tumor consisting of cartilage and bone
- Osteoblastoma: osteoid tissue-forming neoplasm of bone
- Osteoid osteoma: a tumor resulting from osteoblasts
- Osteoma: the result of new bone growing on older bone
- Malignant Tumors:
- Chondrosarcoma: a cancer consisting of mutated cells that produce cartilage, found primarily in older adults with increased risk after age 40.
- Ewing's Sarcoma: a family of tumors found primarily in children or young adults under the age of 20; males are affected more so than females. A rare disease in which cancerous tumors are found in the pelvis, humerus, femur, ribs, or the clavicle.
- Fibrosarcoma: a cancerous tumor formed from fibroblasts, which are anaplastic spindle cells originating in the fibrous tissues of bone.
- Germ cell tumors: a neoplasm formed from germ cells, which can be benign or malignant, occurring primarily in the ovaries or testes. These cell tumors are possibly caused by birth defects.
- Multiple Myeloma: a hematologic cancer which originates in the marrow of the bone from mutated white blood cells, also known as Kahler's disease.
- Osteosarcoma: an aggressive neoplasm formed from mesenchymal cells producing a cancerous osteoid. This cancer is found most often in youth between the ages of 10 and 20, though adults with additional conditions may be susceptible as well (Paget Disease for example).
Secondary Bone Tumors (malignant):
- Malignant Tumors:
- Cancers in the bone that have metastasized from other areas of the body, primarily from the lungs, breast, or prostate.
What Causes Bone Cancer?
It is currently unclear what causes cancer to develop in the bone directly. Some researchers believe inherited genetic mutations may play a part. Radiation also increases the possibility of developing cancer in the bone or blood (i.e. lymphoma or leukemia).
Trauma to the bone may encourage a rapid growth of cells that could develop into abnormal cancerous cells, although it's not as common. Equally uncommon, those with metal implants to support bone fractures have a slightly higher risk of developing bone cancer near the implant.
High doses of radiation or other cancer fighting drugs have shown to increase the risk of developing bone cancer in children. Children who develop the extremely rare eye cancer - hereditary retinoblastoma - have a higher risk of developing bone cancer.
Symptoms of Bone Cancer:
Secondary bone cancer may not appear to have separate symptoms from the originating cancer source. Primary bone cancer may show signs and symptoms that should get checked out by your physician. Symptoms of primary bone cancer may include:
- Bone pain
- Bone fractures, not from specific incidents
- A mass that can be seen or felt
- Swelling at the tumor site
- Weight loss without trying
- Stiffness in the joints and bones
Diagnosing Bone Cancer:
If any of the symptoms above occur, see your medical professional for diagnosis. If your doctor suspects cancer, you may be referred to an oncologist, or cancer specialist.
Tests used to diagnose primary bone cancer include:
- Bone biopsy
- Bone scan
- MRI of the bone and tissue
- PET scan
- Bone x-ray
- Alkaline phosphatase blood level test
- Blood calcium level test
- Alkaline phosphatase isoenzyme test
- Parathyroid hormone level test
- Blood phosphorus level test
Treatment for Bone Cancer:
Benign bone tumors will likely not require treatment at all, as long as the tumor is not interfering with everyday life. If the benign tumor is affecting movement or a doctor suspects it could develop further, the tumor could be removed based on the location. Regular checkups should occur to evaluate the size and growth pattern of the tumor.
Malignant bone tumors will require further treatment. If the cancer originated elsewhere and then spread to the bone, radiation is likely to be the primary treatment. This treatment will help to prevent bone fractures and may help to reduce bone pain.
Cancerous bone tumors that begin in the bone will need to be treated at a cancer facility that specializes in bone cancers. Treatments are specific to the patient and type of bone cancer. Chemotherapy will likely be used in combination with radiation, and surgery to remove the tumor may be necessary at some point.
Depending on the location and severity of the cancerous tumor, cryosurgery may be used to destroy the tumor. Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the tumor with extreme temperatures, which then kills the cancer cells.
Follow-up treatment is a must for bone cancer survivors. Bone cancer is prone to recurring and spreading to other organs. Blood tests and x-rays taken on a regular basis will help track whether the cancer has returned.
Children and young adults who have had bone cancer are especially susceptible to developing leukemia when they are older.
National Cancer Institute offers information about many forms of cancer including bone cancer.
Multiple Myeloma Opportunities for Research and Education offers information on myeloma research and treatments.