(Osteosarcoma; Chondrosarcoma; Ewing’s Sarcoma; Fibrosarcoma; Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma; Primary Lymphoma of Bone; Giant Cell Tumor; Chordoma)
Bone cancer is a relatively rare disease in which cancer cells grow in the bone tissue. Cancer occurs when cells in the body (in this case bone cells) divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.
Cancer may form in the bone or spread to the bone from another site in the body. When cancer starts in bone tissue, it is called primary bone cancer. When cancer cells travel to the bone from elsewhere, it is called secondary or metastatic cancer to the bone. Types of bone cancer include:
- Osteosarcoma—a cancerous tumor of the bone, usually of the arms, legs, or pelvis; the most common primary cancer.
The sooner bone cancer is treated, the more favorable the outcome. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor immediately.
The cause of primary bone cancer is unknown. Genetics play a major role in most cases. Conditions that cause increased bone breakdown and regeneration over an extended period of time increase the risk of tumor development. This explains why osteosarcoma in children is most common during the adolescent growth spurt.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
The following factors increase your chance of developing bone cancer:
- Paget's disease (a noncancerous bone condition)
- Exposure to radiation
- Injury to a bone (not yet been confirmed as a risk factor)
- Family history of bone cancer
In addition, the following are risk factors specific to certain types of bone cancer:
- Age: older than 20
- Multiple exostoses (an inherited condition that results in bumps on bones)
- Age: younger than 30
Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma:
- Age: middle-aged and elderly
Giant cell tumor:
- Age: young and middle-aged
Symptoms of bone cancer vary, depending on the location and size of the tumor.
Symptoms may include:
- Pain at the tumor location
- Swelling or a lump at the location of the tumor
- Deep bone pain severe enough to wake you up
- Bone fractures
These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious health conditions. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be performed.
Tests may include the following:
- Blood test—to check the level of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase; An increased amount of this enzyme is released in patients with bone tumors and when healthy children are growing.
Once cancer is found, staging tests are performed to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. Treatment depends on the type, stage, and location of the cancer, and your overall health. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Radiation therapy for bone cancer uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
- External radiation therapy—radiation directed at the tumor from a source outside the body
- Internal radiation therapy—radioactive materials placed into the body near the cancer cells
Radiation of Tumor
Surgery for bone cancer involves the removal of a cancerous tumor, nearby tissues, and possible nearby lymph nodes. Surgery may require amputation of the limb with cancer. Whenever possible, doctors try to remove the cancerous part of the bone without amputating. In this case, metal plates or a bone graft replace the cancerous tissue that has been removed.
Sometimes, adding radiation therapy or chemotherapy can help avoid the need for amputation. If the tumor is large or aggressive, or the risk of spread is high, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be added to help prevent a recurrence at the site of surgery. This is also done to prevent spread to distant organs.
Myeloablative Therapy With Stem Cell Support
For cancer that has spread, intense chemotherapy is sometimes given to kill cancer cells. This therapy also destroys the bone marrow. Stem cells, which have the ability to develop into other types of cells, are then given to replace the lost bone marrow.
Special Treatment Considerations for Certain Cancer Types
- Osteosarcoma—Chemotherapy given before and after surgery will often cure osteosarcoma and can allow for limb-sparing surgery in people who might have otherwise required amputation.
- Ewing’s sarcoma—Since Ewing’s sarcoma is very responsive to chemotherapy, its treatment often involves several weeks of chemotherapy followed by surgical removal or radiation therapy, then several more months of chemotherapy.
- Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma—These conditions are usually treated with surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and a one-inch margin of healthy tissue surrounding it.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Caring for Kids
The Canadian Paediatric Society
Cecil RL, Goldman L, Bennett JC. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
Behrman RE, Kliegman RM, Jenson HB, Nelson WE. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 16th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
Dambro MR, Griffith JA. Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2001.
Detailed guide: bone cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/CRI_2_3x.asp?dt=2 . Updated May 2009. Accessed July 13, 2009.
Last reviewed July 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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