What is Bone Cancer?
Bone cancer refers to the abnormal growth of the cells and tissues in the bone that destroy or inhibit the functioning of the normal bone tissues. This results in weakening of the bone tissues making them vulnerable for fractures. Furthermore, the quality of life of the affected individuals is also significantly affected.
Bone cancer generally is generally associated with pain in the affected bones. A wide variety of treatment options are available and are chosen based on the location, severity of the cancer and other associated factors.
Bone cancers are observed to affect children, adolescents and adults above the age of 40 years more commonly. Prompt diagnosis and treatment during the early stages of bone cancer is associated with a better prognosis when compared to advanced cases of bone cancer.
Who is at Risk of Developing Bone Cancer?
The exact cause of occurrence of bone cancer is not known. However, certain factors have been noted to increase the risk of occurrence of some types of bone cancers. In general, long bones (such as those of the hands and legs) are more commonly affected by bone cancer than smaller bones.
Osteosarcoma is more common in individuals who have undergone radiation therapy or have consumed anti-cancer medications for the treatment of other cancers. Children are considered more susceptible to develop osteosarcoma following radiation therapy or anti-cancer therapy. In some cases osteosarcoma may be due to certain hereditary factors wherein presence of some hereditary bone defects may increase the risk of occurrence of bone cancers. Presence of a metal implant (generally used to treat bone fractures) may act as triggering factor in some bone cancers.
Osteosarcoma is generally noted to affect children and adolescents between the age group of 10-19 years. It is also noted more commonly in adults above the age of 40 years who are suffering from other bone disorders such as Paget’s disease.
Chondrosarcoma is rarely noted in children and adolescents while adults above 40 years of age are more susceptible to develop this type of cancer. Furthermore, it has also been noted that the risk of chondrosarcoma in adults increases as the age advances.
Ewing’s sarcoma affects children below the age of 19 years more commonly wherein boys are more frequently affected than girls.
What are the Symptoms of Bone Cancer?
The affected bones are generally painful, although there may no specific symptoms in the initial stages of bone cancer. The symptoms may become obvious only during the advanced stages of bone cancer. In some cases, abnormal swelling of the bone may be the presenting feature of bone cancers. Other signs and symptoms of bone cancer can include: increased incidence of fractures due to weakened bones, generalized tiredness, fever, unintentional weight loss and anemia.
The diagnosis of bone cancer is based on a comprehensive review of the signs and symptoms observed, family and personal history of cancer, physical examination and certain specialized laboratory tests. The laboratory tests include blood tests, X-ray images, CT, MRI and PET scans, and biopsy of the bone tissues. A thorough analysis of the results obtained is required before the diagnosis of bone cancer is made.
How is Bone Cancer Treated?
Numerous treatment options are available for the treatment of bone cancer and are individualized based on the factors such as severity of the condition, location of the bone cancer, age of the affected individual, stage of the bone cancer and general health status of the affected individual.
The treatment options for bone cancer can be broadly categorized into three groups: surgical therapies, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These options are performed as individual procedures or are advised in combination.
Surgery is the commonest treatment option selected for the treatment of bone cancers. This procedure involves the removal of cancerous tissues along with a rim of healthy bone tissues around the cancerous tissues. Chemotherapy may either be advised before surgical removal of the cancerous tissues or after the surgical procedure to reduce the extent and recurrence rate of bone cancers.
In some cases, as with Ewing’s sarcoma a combination of surgical therapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be advised to control the spread of the bone cancer. Cryosurgery which involves exposing the affected bone tissues to liquid nitrogen which freezes and kills the cancer cells is at times used to treat bone cancer.
Chemotherapy involves the administration of a combination of medications that belong to the group of anti-cancer drugs. These drugs are aimed at killing the cancer cells or limiting their progression while sparing the healthy cells and tissues of the bone. Chemotherapy may be advised in situations as noted before or in cases where widespread involvement of cancer is suspected.
Radiation therapy involves the controlled exposure of the affected bone to x-rays for a certain period of time. This may involve multiple exposures after sufficient time intervals ranging from a few days to a few weeks.
Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, counseling and relaxation therapies may aid in improving the general quality of life of the affected individuals.
How can Bone Cancer be Prevented?
There are no specific methods to prevent the occurrence of bone cancers as the exact cause of its occurrence is not known. Avoiding exposure to high energy radiations and some industrial chemicals that are associated with increased cancer risk may help to a certain extent. Screening tests may be advised in children and adolescents undergoing treatment for other cancers which may be beneficial in identifying bone cancers in their early stages
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment helps to reduce the complications associated with bone cancer. It also helps in improving the quality of life of the affected individuals. Numerous herbal and nutritional supplements have been proposed to have beneficial roles in the prevention of cancers in general. However, no clear data exists about their cancer preventive effects.