Bone cancer is the cancer that affects your skeletal structure. The bones in your body are covered by the network of fibrous tissue known as ‘matrix’ and these act as a base for the calcium salts. The outer part of the bone is a harder covering called cortical bone which covers the lighter and the soft trabecular bone.
Bones are developed in a constant process of degeneration and regeneration. In case any of the cells in the bone get affected with cancer it starts an uncontrolled growth in them.
What are the types of Bone Cancer?
There are basically two types of bone cancer categories according to the origin of the cancer cells. Bone cancer is divided into:
Primary Bone Cancer
Primary bone cancer is the growth of the cancerous cells starting from the bone itself. The cells of the bone become cancerous initially.
Secondary Bone Cancer
Secondary bone cancer is a form of cancer that has spread from another cancerous part of the body. This spreading of the cancer to the surrounding parts of the body is called as ‘metastatic’ cancer. The origin of these types of cancers is not in the bone and the cancerous cells will retain the properties and characteristics of the original cancerous tissue.
There are various types if primary cancers that are found to affect the bone cells, such as:
Osteosarcoma – This is one of the most commonly seen primary bone cancer and is mostly found in teenagers and adolescents, although the chances of developing this cancer is irrelevant of age. This cancer can develop in any part of the skeletal structure such as the femur (lower thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and the humerus (upper arm bone).
Ewing’s Sarcoma – This cancer is more prevalent in teenagers and usually originates at the hip (pelvic bone), thigh (femur) or the shin (tibia). Ewing’s sarcoma can also develop in the soft tissues of the body which is known as soft tissue sarcomas.
Chondrosarcoma – This type of bone cancer is mostly found in middle-aged adults of around 40 years and onwards. This is a form of cartilage cells cancer. The cartilage is the smooth material that generally covers the end of the bones in a joint. Cartilage provides support and smooth movement to the joint. This cancer can affect the cells inside the bone as well as develop outside. This excessive growth causes a lump around the affected joints and is usually seen in the pelvic bone (hip joint), femur bone (thighs), humerus bone (upper arm bone), ribs and the scapula (shoulder blade).
Spindle Cell Sarcoma – This type of bone cancer is similar to osteosarcomas but is not able to produce osteoid. This cancer is usually found in adults of over 40 years of age. Spindle cell sarcomas can include undifferentiated sarcoma of bone, fibrosarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocystoma and leiomyosarcoma.
Chordoma – This is a very rare type of bone cancer and is mostly seen in adults between 40-60 years of age. Women have been found to be more prone to this bone cancer.
What are the signs and symptoms of Bone Cancer?
The commonly seen signs and symptoms of all the types of bone cancer are:
Pain – The affected bone develops signs of pain gradually starting with a dull ache and only increase in intensity at night of when using the bone. The pain increases and becomes constant as the cancerous cells continue their growth.
Swelling – A few weeks after being affected the painful area might become inflamed and swollen around the cancerous growth on the bone.
Fractures – Nearly all types of bone cancers weaken the bone it affects but complete fractures are rarely seen.
How is Bone Cancer diagnosed?
It is advisable to consult an experienced physician/general oncologist in case you see multiple symptoms of bone cancer. After a thorough knowledge of your medical history and a physical examination the doctor might suggest diagnostic imaging tests such as a bone scan, computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, x-ray test or a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) (PET) scan.
A biopsy can also be suggested to determine the exact type of the cancerous cells in order to help the doctor select the most-suitable cancer treatment for you. A biopsy requires removing a part of the cancerous tissue using minimally invasive methods such as a needle or a small incision, if required.
How is Bone Cancer treated?
The treatment for bone cancer depends on several factors such as your fitness level and age, the extent to which the cancer has spread as well as the type of bone cancer.
The most common forms of bone cancer treatment are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma and spindle cell sarcoma are usually treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. The surgeons perform chemotherapy before the surgery to shrink the size of the tumor (cancerous growth) so that it can be easily and efficiently removed with a surgical procedure.
Radiotherapy is most often used to treat Ewing’s sarcoma as it can be used successfully to shrink the tumor after the surgery as well as lower the risk of the cancer recurring in that spot.
A team of highly-skilled and experienced health professionals will perform the bone cancer treatment and includes specialist bone cancer surgeons, cancer specialists (oncologists), experienced surgical staff, etc.