Many types of cancer can spread to the bones, but it is unusual for cancer to originate in them. Although bone cancer is relatively rare, accounting for only one percent of all cancers, more than 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, most the result of cancers that have spread from other areas of the body. Bone cancer is most common in children, and seldom affects adults.
Types of Bone Cancers
There are several types of bone cancers. They affect different groups of people, and may require specific treatments.
The most common type of bone cancer, chondrosarcoma forms in the cartilage, and usually affects people 40 or older. It can be either aggressive or slow-growing.
Originating in bone tissue, osteosarcoma most often affects those between 10 and 30 years old, and males more often than females. It usually forms near the knee and upper arm.
Occurring in the bones of the skull and spine, chordoma typically develops in the lower spinal cord or the base of the skull. Chordoma usually affects adults, but can occur at any age.
The most aggressive form of bone cancer, Ewing's sarcoma commonly affects children between 4 and 15 years old. Ewing's sarcoma usually occurs in the bones, but can develop in soft tissue.
In teens and children, osteosarcoma and Ewing's sarcoma are the most common types of bone cancer.
Risk Factors for Bone Cancer
The exact cause of most bone cancers is unknown, but there are a number of risk factors for developing it. They may include having a history of the following:
- Radiation therapy (may increase risk at site of radiation treatment)
- Chemotherapy (may increase risk of developing a secondary cancer)
- Benign tumors/other noncancerous bone diseases
- Hereditary retinoblastoma (uncommon eye cancer affecting children)
Symptoms of Bone Cancer
The main symptom of bone cancer is pain in the affected area. Other symptoms may include:
- Joint swelling
Bone cancer can occur anywhere in the body, but most frequently affects the long bones in the arms and legs.
Diagnosing Bone Cancer
A physical is performed, and the physician asks about the patient's personal and family medical history. Laboratory and diagnostic tests, which include the following, may be performed:
- Blood test
- Bone scan
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan
Treatment for Bone Cancer
There are several different treatment options available for bone cancer. Which option is best is based on the type, stage, size and location of the cancer, as well as the patient's age and overall health. Common treatments include the following:
- Radiation therapy
These treatments may be performed alone or in conjunction with each other. Their aim is to remove all malignant tissue, while maintaining as much healthy tissue as possible. Regular checkups are essential because bone cancer can metastasize.