What you need to know about Bone Cancer

Facts & Stats

The human body has as many as 206 bones. In theory, at least, every one of those bones could be the victim of bone cancer. But it has generally been observed that bone cancer occurs in some specific areas or in particular bone sets more frequently. For example, the pelvic region and the long bones of the arms and legs are quite prone to get bone cancer. Bone cancer can begin in any part of a bone, and then metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. Conversely, bone cancer could be a cancerous growth whose origins were in some other part of the body and have now spread into the bones.

Symptoms

There are a few tell-tale signs that bone cancer has begun to take hold of the body. You might find yourself feeling tired quite often, even though there hasn’t been any physical activity or mental exertion to cause fatigue. The bones of your body might start to become brittle and get fractured quite easily. Any unexplained swelling or tenderness in any part of your body could have its roots inside, and could be due to the onset of bone cancer in that bone. Instead of any swelling on the skin and muscle, you might feel some pain in the bone. Finally, a sudden and unexplained weight loss could be a signal that bone cancer is on its way.

Stages

We spoke of the TNM staging system in the earlier blog on prostate cancer. The same tumour – node – metastasis nomenclature is used for staging of bone cancer as well. Additionally, there is also a Grade G to describe the extent of a bone cancer. It tells us how much the cancerous cells resemble healthy cells. This resemblance (or lack of it) is represented as well differentiated or poorly differentiated. Based on the T, N, M, and G category of the person’s cancer, the stage of the cancer is determined. As per this classification and gradation, there are as many as eight stages of bone cancer possible.

Causes

It is well established that the occurrence of certain risk factors in a person heighten the change of him or her getting affected by bone cancer. But surprisingly, there are many people who get affected by bone cancer even if they have very few (or even none, in some cases) of those risk factors. So the direct linkage of certain causes to the occurrence of bone cancer has not been established yet. It is widely accepted, though, that changes (mutations) in a person’s DNA can cause him or her to develop cancerous cells by the promoting of genes causing cell division.

Diagnosis

We already listed some of the symptoms which can indicate the onset of bone cancer. But such symptoms could sometimes be misleading, and could be due to other ailments as well. In order to conclusively prove or disprove the presence or absence of bone cancer, there are certain tests that your physician will suggest to you. These could be some or all of the following:

  • X-ray
  • A complete scan of your bones (bone scan)
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

Based on the result of the above tests (which again might not be conclusive by themselves), the physician might ask you to get a biopsy done.

Treatment

Like most other types of cancer, a patient suffering from cancer has some standard options available. He or she could go in for radiation therapy or chemotherapy, which are the two most commonly opted treatments, which have correspondingly higher success rates as well. Unlike other cancers, surgery is a very complicated option here, because the removed bone has to be replaced with other bones.

Prevention

No specific preventive measures for bone cancer have yet been identified. But the usual health guidelines for prevention of any type of cancer do hold true. For example, a healthy diet with adequate physical activity is always good for keeping all ailments at bay. Too much of exposure to the sun should be avoided, and if it necessary, adequate care should be taken to cover exposed areas as much as possible. Lifestyle choices like safe sex and not sharing of needles for intravenous drugs are also healthy habits.