Bone metastasis occurs when cancer cells spread from their original site to a bone. Nearly all types of cancer can spread (metastasize) to the bones. But some types of cancer are particularly likely to spread to bone, including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Bone metastasis can occur in any bone but more commonly occurs in the pelvis and spine. Bone metastasis may be the first sign that you have cancer, or bone metastasis may occur years after cancer treatment.
Bone metastasis can cause pain and broken bones. With rare exceptions, cancer that has spread to the bones can't be cured. Treatments can help reduce pain and other symptoms of bone metastases.
Signs and symptoms of bone metastasis include:
When to see a doctor
Bone metastasis occurs when cancer cells break away from the original tumor and spread to the bones, where they begin to multiply. It's believed that cancer cells arrive in the bones by traveling through the blood vessels.
Doctors aren't sure what causes some cancers to spread. And it's not clear why some cancers travel to the bones rather than to other common sites for metastasis, such as the liver.
Virtually any type of cancer can spread to the bones, but the cancers most likely to cause bone metastasis include:
Preparing for your appointment
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Tell your doctor if you've been treated for cancer in the past, even if you received cancer treatment many years ago. If you're diagnosed with a bone metastasis, you'll be referred to a cancer specialist (oncologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For bone metastasis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions that occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Imaging tests are used to investigate signs and symptoms that may indicate bone metastasis. Which tests you undergo depends on your specific situation. Tests may include:
Treatments and drugs
Treatments for bone metastasis include medications, radiation therapy and surgery. What treatments are best for you will depend on the specifics of your situation.
External radiation therapy
Heating and freezing cancer cells
During a procedure called radiofrequency ablation, a needle containing an electric probe is inserted into the bone tumor. Electricity passes through the probe and heats the surrounding tissue. The tissue is allowed to cool down, and the process is repeated. A similar procedure called cryoablation freezes the tumor and then allows it to thaw. The process is repeated multiple times.
Side effects can include damage to nearby structures, such as nerves, and damage to bones that can increase the risk of a broken bone.
Radiopharmaceuticals can help control pain caused by bone metastasis. This treatment doesn't require a hospital stay, and you won't be radioactive after treatment. Side effects can include damage to the bone marrow, which can lead to low blood cell counts.
Coping and support
Coping with bone metastasis requires more than enduring bone pain. It also involves coming to terms with the news that your cancer has spread beyond its original site. Cancer that has metastasized can be very difficult to cure, though people can live several years with bone metastasis. Your doctor will work to minimize your pain and to maintain your function so that you can continue your daily activities.
Each person finds his or her own way to cope with a cancer diagnosis. Until you find what works best for you, consider trying to:
Last Updated: 2012-04-27
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