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Bone cancer occurs when a tumor, or abnormal mass of tissue, forms in a bone. A tumor may be malignant, which means it’s growing aggressively and spreading to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is often referred to as cancerous. Cancer that begins in the bones is rare.
Primary bone cancers are the most serious of all bone cancers. They form directly in the bones or surrounding tissue, such as cartilage.
Cancer can also spread, or metastasize, from another part of your body to your bones. This is known as secondary bone cancer, and this type is more common than primary bone cancer.
Common types of primary bone cancers include:
Multiple myeloma is the most common type of bone cancer. It occurs when cancer cells grow in the bone marrow and cause tumors in various bones. MM usually affects older adults. Among bone cancers, MM has one of the best prognoses, and many people who have it don’t require treatment.
Osteosarcoma, or osteogenic sarcoma, generally affects children and adolescents, but it can also occur in adults. It has a tendency to originate at the tips of the long bones in the arms and legs. Osteosarcoma may also start in the hips, shoulders, or other locations. It affects the hard tissue that provides the outer layer of your bones.
Chondrosarcoma may occur in the pelvis, thigh areas, and shoulders of older adults. It forms in the subchondral tissue, which is the tough connective tissue between your bones. This is the second most common primary cancer involving the bones.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare cancer that either begins in the soft tissues surrounding the bones or directly in the bones of children and young adults. The long bones of the body, such as the arms and legs, and the pelvis are commonly affected.
The symptoms of bone cancer are:
Less common symptoms include:
The cause of bone cancer isn’t exactly known, but there are certain factors that may contribute to or increase a person’s chances of forming abnormal growths in the bone. These include:
Healthy cells continually divide and replace older cells. After completing this process they die. Abnormal cells, however, continue living. They start forming masses of tissue that turn into tumors.
Radiation therapy, which kills dangerous cancer cells, can be used to treat bone cancer. However, osteosarcoma may form in some people who receive the treatment. The use of high dosages of radiation may be a factor in this development.
The following may be risk factors for bone cancer:
Doctors classify primary bone cancer in stages. These stages describe where the cancer is, what it’s doing, and how much it has affected other parts of the body:
Your doctor may use the following methods to determine the stage of cancers in the bones:
Treatment depends on:
Medications that treat bone cancer include:
Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy to kill the cancer cells.
Your doctor may surgically remove tumors or affected tissue. Surgery to remove and replace damaged bone is an option to stop cancers that spread quickly. For extensive bone damage in the arms or legs, amputation may be needed.
Your doctor may add alternative therapies that include herbal treatments to your care plan. However, this must be done with careful consideration as some alternative treatments may interfere with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
The five-year survival rate for bone cancer greatly depends on the location and the stage of cancer when you’re first diagnosed.
Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Marijane Leonard
Medically reviewed on: Jan 26, 2016: Steve Kim, MD
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