Bone cancer is a serious condition that is quite rare in adults, where it accounts for less than 1% of the total number of cancers. Bone pain or fractures can be a clinical sign of bone cancer.
A malignant bone tumor is a type of cancer that can affect all the bones in the body. Often the tubular bones of the arms and thighs, the spine, and the pelvis are affected. It can be one of two types:
- Primary bone tumor, which grows directly on healthy bone.
- Secondary bone tumor, which starts in any other organ and then spreads to the bones
Bone tumors rarely lead to death, but they can be dangerous and require treatment. Some types are benign, meaning they are not cancerous, while others are malignant. But benign tumors can also grow and affect bone structure causing all kinds of issues. Malignant and cancerous tumors can metastasize throughout the body thereby spreading the cancer making it much harder to treat.
What types of bone tumors are there?
There are different types of bone lesions. Some types affect more children, others more adults. Some of these lesions appear as spots during imaging procedures, but they are not considered real tumors, they are benign.
Some of the most common malignant bone tumors are:
- Osteosarcoma is the most common primary malignant bone tumor in children and adolescents. The bones of the knee, shoulder, and hip are particularly affected.
- Ewing tumors mainly affect children, adolescents, and young adults. The most commonly affected bones are in the thighs, arms, legs, and pelvis.
- Chondrosarcoma mainly affects adults. Chondrosarcoma is a malignant tumor that forms cartilage. It mainly affects the bones of the thighs, arms, and pelvis.
What causes bone cancer?
We do not yet know what causes most bone tumors. Doctors believe that the disease starts with a defect in the cells’ DNA, which causes the cell to grow and divide erratically. This build-up in cells would form a mass or tumor that could invade nearby areas and spread to other parts of the body.
Certain situations can increase the likelihood of disease:
- Genetic syndromes, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome and hereditary retinoblastoma
- A pre-existing bone disease, such as Paget’s syndrome, which primarily affects adults and the elderly
- High exposure to radiation, for example, in the treatment of old cancer diseases
- People with cancers of the kidney, breast, prostate, lung, digestive tract, and thyroid are more likely to have secondary bone tumors.
What are the symptoms of bone tumors?
Symptoms of bone cancer may include:
- Bone pain
- Swelling and tenderness near the affected area
- Unintentional weight loss
If any of the above symptoms occur, a doctor should be consulted. The specialist for this type of cancer is the rheumatologist.
What are the treatment options for bone cancer?
Treatment options for bone tumors depend on the type, stage, and general health of the patient and his or her medical conditions. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these methods.
For cancer of bone tissue, known as osteosarcoma, additional treatment with the drug mifamurtide (Mepact)may also be prescribed.