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Bone Cancer

What is the bone cancer?

Bone cancer can either start in the cells of the bone (called primary bone cancer) or elsewhere in the body and spread to the bone (called secondary or metastatic bone cancer).
There are three kinds of primary bone cancer:

  • Osteosarcoma is the most common--it starts in new tissue in growing bones, most often in the knee and upper arm areas then tends to spread to other parts of the body, specifically the lungs. This type of cancer is more common in children, teenagers and young adults
  • Chondrosarcoma begins in the cartilage around the bone, often in the pelvis, upper leg and shoulders--this form of cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads. It is more common in people over 40.
  • Ewing Sarcomas is the most aggressive and is most common in children, teenagers and young adults. It begins in the cavity of the bone, most frequently in the arm, leg, backbone or pelvis and can also occur in soft tissue. This type of bone cancer tends to develop quickly and spread to other parts of the body.

Secondary or metastatic bone cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to other places.  Metastasis is the process of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.  This type is more common than primary bone cancer.

Secondary bone cancer is often the result of cancer spreading from the breast, prostate, kidney, lung or thyroid.

How do I know if I have bone cancer?

The underlying symptom of bone cancer is pain, including an ache that feels worse at night. Depending on the size and location of the tumour in the bone, pain can vary. Additional symptoms may include:

  • swelling in the area of the cancer
  • broken bone
  • problems moving the joint in the area.

Many of these symptoms can be explained for reasons other than having cancer. You should see your doctor if any of these symptoms are prevalent and do not go away.

If your doctor suspects a problem, he or she will take a complete history of your health, any medications you are taking, and the symptoms you are experiencing.  Your doctor will then do a complete physical exam to look for what might be causing your symptoms.

Your doctor may then send you for some tests.  Blood tests and X-rays are often done.  Then you may have a CT scan (a series of X-rays taken along your body) or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging, a three-dimensional scan of your body).

A bone scan may then be done.  This involves injecting a substance (called the tracer) into a vein in your arm and then pictures are taken of it as it travels to different parts of your body.  A specialist will examine the pictures to look for any problems in the bone.

If a tumour is found through these tests, your doctor may want to take a tissue sample through a biopsy.  This test involves taking a small sample (through a small needle or a small incision) to look at under a microscope.

What is my risk of getting it?

There is no single cause of primary bone cancer, but there are some risk factors that may increase the chance of developing it depending on the type of bone cancer. Each type of bone cancer has its own risk factors and includes having:

  • had treatment with radiation or chemotherapy, especially at a young age
  • Paget’s Disease (a non-cancerous bone disease)
  • bone tumours that are not cancer (called osteochondroma or chondroma
  • genetic diseases and syndromes such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome (genetic changes to cells that are often linked to cancer), retinoblastoma (cancer in a part of the eye) or Rothmund-Thompson syndrome (a rare skin condition)

For more information on other types of cancers