Bone cancer is a tumor of the bone. It is malignant (cancerous) and destroys normal bone tissue. Bone cancer that starts on the bone is called primary bone cancer while cancer that spreads to a bone from another part of the body is called metastatic cancer.
Not all bone tumors are cancerous. Many are benign, and while they can grow and damage bone tissue, they do not spread to other parts of the body.
Signs of Bone Cancer
While bone cancer can start in any bone, it is most frequently within an arm or leg bone and can produce a number of symptoms based on its location and how advanced it is. Signs of bone cancer include:
- Pain. This is the most common sign of bone cancer. The pain may come and go initially, often being worse at night or when the bone is being used. For example, cancer in a leg bone may be more noticeable while walking or running. As cancer grows, the pain will increase and become constant.
- Swelling. Swelling may not occur until weeks after the pain is first detected. Depending on the location of cancer, it may be possible to feel a lump or mass. The swelling may impact body functions. For instance, cancer in the neck bones can make it difficult to swallow or breathe.
- Fatigue and weight loss. Bone cancer that spreads to other organs can cause fatigue and weight loss. If it spreads to the lungs, it may make it hard to breathe.
- Bone fractures. Bone cancer can weaken the affected bone. While fractures are not common, they can happen. When a fracture occurs, a person will often feel sharp pain in an area that was previously just sore.
- Numbness and tingling. If bone cancer presses on nerves, it can cause numbness, tingling or weakness in areas served by the nerves.
Bone Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
We use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, stage, inform treatment and carefully monitor bone cancer. Common diagnostic procedures can include a bone scan, CT scan, MRI, PET scan, and/or an angiogram. Bone cancer treatments vary based on the size and stage of cancer, the age and general health of the patient and other factors. They include:
- Surgery to remove the tumor
- Chemotherapy, which utilizes anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
- Radiation therapy in which high-energy X-rays target and kill cancer cells
- Cryosurgery using liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill cancer cells
Bone cancer can metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body. Consequently, people who have been treated for bone cancer should talk with their doctor promptly if they experience any unusual symptoms.