Overview – What is it?
Bone cancer refers to a type of cancer that can begin in any bone in the body when malignant or cancerous cells start to grow and multiply rapidly and uncontrollably. The risk factors for this cancer include gene inheritance, previous radiation therapy and other medical conditions such as retinoblastoma.
Some of the symptoms for this cancer are bone pain, fatigue and unintentional weight loss, among others. Bone cancer can be diagnosed through imaging tests like bone scans and biopsies.
The treatment for this condition is done through surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and target therapy, among other treatment options.
The risk of bone cancer can be reduced by eating healthy, having regular exercises and getting regular screening.
Causes – What causes it?
The exact cause of bone cancer is not known, however, there are risk factors that have been linked to this cancer including:
- Gene inheritance
- Conditions such as Paget’s disease of the bone
- Use of metal implants in repairing fractures
- Previous radiotherapy for cancer treatment
- Previous chemotherapy treatment with alkylating agents
The main types of bone cancers are:
- Osteosarcoma: It is the most common form of bone cancer which occurs mostly in children and young adults and affects the bones of the arms and legs. The cancerous cells in this type of bone cancer produce bone.
- Chondrosarcoma: This type is the second most common form of bone cancer which occurs in the pelvis, arms and legs in middle-aged and older adults. The cancerous cells in this type produce cartilage.
- Ewing sarcoma: Commonly occurs in children and young adults, and starts in the pelvis, arms or legs.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Bone cancer symptoms occur as a result of the bone tumour pressing against the healthy tissues. The possible symptoms of bone cancer include:
- Persistent bone pain
- Swelling, tenderness, stiffness and redness of joints
- Fractures due to weakened bones
- Unintentional weight loss
- Lump over a bone
- Anaemia; low level of red blood cells
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Physical examination: This is carried out during the initial consultation to check for visible signs of bone cancer such as tumour over the affected bone, swelling and redness of joints, among other visible symptoms.
- Blood test: This can be done to determine whether a person has bone cancer by checking for the level of certain components such as alkaline phosphate and lactate dehydrogenase, in the blood which may indicate the presence of bone cancer.
- Imaging tests like:
- Computerised tomography (CT) scan which gives detailed images of the inside of the bone showing any abnormalities in the bone such as tumours.
- X-ray which gives pictures of bone structure enabling visibility of any abnormalities of the bones.
- Bone scan which is used to look inside the bones with the help of a radioactive tracker that is injected into the vein appearing grey in healthy bone and dark in cancerous cells.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans which give more detailed images of the bones and also help in measuring the size of the tumour
- Biopsy: This test is done by taking a sample of tissue from the affected area and examining it under a microscope to determine whether there is presence of malignant cells.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
Bone cancer treatment depends on the type of bone cancer and how far it has spread. The different treatment options are:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the cancer tumour, the bone affected by the cancer or the entire bone. The different types of surgeries are:
- Limp-salvage surgery which is done to remove the cancer and surrounding healthy tissues with the aim of saving the arm or leg.
- Amputation to remove part or the entire arm or leg in which the tumour is located.
- Metastases surgery to remove cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs
- Reconstructive surgery which aims at rebuilding or reshaping the part of the body that has had its appearance changed by bone cancer surgery.
- Chemotherapy: Uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. It works well for some types of cancers such as Ewing and Osteosarcoma.
- Radiation therapy: This treatment involves using high-powered energy beams to kill cancer cells aiming at the point where the cancer cells are located to avoid destroying healthy cells near it.
- Targeted therapy: This is a treatment option that involves using drugs or other substances to identify and attack cancer cells.
- Cryotherapy: It involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill cancer cells instead of using surgery to destroy the cancer tumour.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
There is no specific way to prevent bone cancer, although, you can reduce the risk factors involved in bone cancer development by:
- Knowing your risk factors to be aware of whether you are at a higher risk of developing bone cancer and in turn be able to reduce your risk for this cancer.
- Living a healthy lifestyle by:
- maintaining a healthy diet, keeping your calories in check and sticking to a low-fat diet,
- not smoking, and
- avoiding stress, among other things.
- Remaining physically active through regular exercises.
- Getting regular screening if you are at a high risk of developing bone cancer.