Cancer: When It’s In Your Bones

Sly. Crafty. Cunning. Many words – not all of them clinical — describe cancer, because it can emerge in nearly any part of the human body, including the bones.

“When we discover malignant tumors in the bone, it can be one of two types,” says McLeod Oncologist Karim Tazi, MD. “A primary tumor indicates that the cancer originated in the bone. A secondary cancer has spread from somewhere else or metastasized. We treat primary and secondary bone cancers differently.”

Primary bone tumors appear most often in three types:

  • Ewing Sarcomas occur most commonly along the legs, arms and pelvis. Youth under 19 years old are most often affected and it is found more in males than females.
  • Osteosarcomas start in the bone forming cells, generally in people between the ages of 10 and 20, and are primarily found in the pelvis, arms and legs.
  • Chondrosarcoma begins in the cartilage that pads joints and the ends of bones. Adults over age 40 are most at risk for this type and the risk increases with age.

Treatment of a previous cancer with radiation or chemotherapy can increase a person’s risk of developing bone cancer. Metal that was implanted to repair a fracture can also raise the risk of bone cancer developing.

People experiencing lung, breast or prostate cancer are most likely to see their cancer spread to the bones. One difference between primary and secondary cancer is that the cancers spreading to the bone will be comprised of the same type cells as the original cancer.

Pain registers as the first symptom, usually worse at night. Eventually, the pain becomes constant, possibly accompanied by swelling. If the bones of the neck are affected, it can lead to trouble swallowing. In the spine, cancer can cause a tingling or quivering feeling, weakness, even numbness.

Diagnosis includes various imaging scans including X-ray, CT scan, MRI and Pet Scans. During these scans, radioactive material is injected and travels through the blood to collect in the areas of concern, organs or bones. The radioactive material stands out during certain scans to highlight the cancer.

Eliminating the cancer usually involves surgery, possibly in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, where it’s appropriate.

Have a question?  Ask a Cancer Specialist.

Sources include:  McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology