Bone cancer is not a common type of cancer. When it does occur, it is often mistaken for other conditions until diagnostic investigations confirm its presence. As with other types of cancer, it may start in the bone or spread to the bone from cancers elsewhere in the body. Some people are at greater risk of developing bone cancer, even if they do not have a family history of it and are not exposed to radiation, which are common risk factors for most cancers.
Read more on benign vs malignant tumors.
How to Spot Bone Cancer
The signs and symptoms of bone cancer are not specific to this disease. Several other musculoskeletal conditions can present with similar signs and symptoms. Since bone cancer is uncommon, it is not unusual for these signs and symptoms to first be attributed to other conditions. The only definitive way to confirm bone cancer is to conduct diagnostic investigations like bone scans and CT scans.
Pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer. Since the most common type of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is more likely to occur in the long bones of the arm and legs as well as the pelvis, the pain is therefore more commonly felt in thse areas. The pain tends to be worse during activity, like with walking or running.
Rarer types of bone cancers may be more likely to arise in and around the knees, at the top or bottom of the spine and jaw. Therefore pain may also be felt in these regions with these rarer types of cancer. There may also be decreased range of motion when a joint like the knee is involved. Pain may also cause a limp.
A lump may be felt in the region of the bone cancer, depending on the location. Furthermore this mass may cause other localized symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing or with breathing when there is a mass at the back of the throat due to a cancer in the neck vertebrae. However, it is important to note that a lump is not always present. Furthermore there may sometimes be regional lymph node swelling which is different from the lump.
Another commonly observed symptom of bone cancer is swelling over the area where the cancer is located. This evident enlargement is not always due to the lump that may sometimes be felt in the area but rather due to a swelling associated with inflammation. It is partly due to the tumor pressing and destroying healthy surrounding tissue. There may also be other symptoms of inflammation in the affected area, such as redness, warmth and tenderness.
Bone cancer destroys healthy bone tissue over time and ultimately weakens the affected bone. This increases the chances of bone fractures. However, most of the time these fractures are rare. Bone cancer does not lead to spontaneous fractures like other bone diseases. Instead it increases the risk of fractures. Therefore there must be some degree of significant trauma to the affected area for a fracture to occur.
A number of other signs and symptoms of bone cancer. These symptoms may be seen with other types of cancers as well as various other non-cancerous diseases. It includes:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Night sweats
Who is at Risk of Bone Cancer?
It is important to note that bone cancer, like most other types of cancer, can affect any person. However, it tends to be more common among some people with certain conditions. High risk people in particular should be aware of the signs and symptoms and seek immediate medical attention when these symptoms become evident. Athough it may not always be due to bone cancer, early diagnosis and treatment can drastically improve the progonosis of bone cancer.
Read more on secondary bone cancer.
Age and Gender
Different types of bone cancer are more common in certain ages. The more common type, osteosarcoma, tends to affect younger people. This ranges from children 10 years of age to adults up to the 30s. It is very rare in younger children, particularly those younger than 5 years of age. However, osteosarcoma can affect other age groups.
Rarer types of bone cancer, like chondrosarcomas, do not usually affect children and younger adults as frequently. It is more common in older people and the risk increases with age, particularly in the over 40s group. Osteosarcoma is more common in males than in females.
As with most types of cancer, there is a greater risk if there is a history of bone cancer among family members. This risk is greatest if a first degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, has or had bone cancer. People with a family history of certain conditions that increases the risk of bone cancer, such as Paget’s disease, may also be at risk if they develop Paget’s disease.
Certain genetic syndromes are associated with an increased risk of bone cancer. This includes hereditary retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Rothmund-Thomson syndrome. However, having these syndromes does not mean that bone cancer is a definite complication.
Paget’s Disease of the Bone
The risk of bone cancer is also high among people who have Paget’s disease of the bone. In this disease, the bone becomes softer and weaker due to a disturbance with the remodeling of bone. It may result in bone pain, deformities and fractures. Less than 1% of people with Paget’s disease of the bone develop bone cancer.
Radiation exposure is a risk for most types of cancer, including bone cancer. Radiation damages the genetic material of cells and can lead to the abnormal growth that is cancer. Most people are not routinely exposed to large doses of radiation. However, radiation therapy for cancer treatment can increase the risk of new cancers, like bone cancer.
There is often a history of trauma in people who develop osteosarcoma. Despite this observation, it is not clear how to this is linked to bone cancer or whether trauma increases the risk of bone cancer. Therefore trauma cannot as yet be considered as a risk factor.