Bone Cancer

What is bone cancer?

Bone cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the bones, and can be either primary or secondary: primary bone cancer starts off in the bones while secondary bone cancer spreads from other areas of the body. There are estimated to be around 500 new cases of bone cancer identified in the UK every year.

Types of bone cancer

Different forms of bone cancer have been found to exist, of which the most widespread are listed below:

  • Osteosarcoma – this is most common among young people
  • Ewing's sarcoma – this is prevalent among children and teenagers
  • Chondrosarcoma – this is more commonly found in adults

Rarer types of bone cancer include chordoma and spindle cell sarcoma.

What causes bone cancer?

In most cases, the cause of bone cancer remains unknown, though the following risk factors have been identified:

  • Age – unlike most forms of cancer, bone cancer is most common among younger people
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Other bone diseases
  • Genetic factors – if you have a genetic condition known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, your chances of developing bone cancer is increased
  • Being born with a hernia
  • Ethnicity – a study in America found that cases were much more common among White Americans rather than Black Americans

Symptoms of bone cancer

Symptoms will often depend on the size and location of the cancer, though the following are to be expected:

  • Restricted movement
  • Pain in the bones
  • Inflammation

Less common symptoms include increased temperature, sweating and unexplained weight loss.

How is bone cancer diagnosed?

The diagnosis process starts with your GP. If you experience symptoms related with bone cancer, your doctor will refer you to a specialist for tests. At the hospital you will have a range of tests, including:

  • X-rays
  • Bone scans
  • Bone biopsy
  • MRI scan

The results of all the tests will be analysed and evaluated before a final diagnosis is given, after which your treatment will begin.

Treatment for bone cancer

Your treatment plan will be put in place based on your age, the stage and location of the cancer and your general health. In most cases, treatment involves surgery which may be carried out before or after a course of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help to shrink a tumour and make it possible to operate; they may also be used after surgery to prevent the cancer coming back.

What is the outlook for people with bone cancer?

The stage of the cancer will have a large impact on your outlook. If bone cancer is diagnosed and treated early enough, the outlook is much more positive. If the cancer is left undiagnosed and is allowed to extend to other areas of the body, the outlook diminishes significantly. Between 50 and 80 percent of people with primary bone cancer live for the minimum of five years after diagnosis.

Living with bone cancer

Living with bone cancer is one of the most difficult things people will have to do. Not only will you feel tired and exhausted as a result of treatment, but you may struggle to accept that you actually have bone cancer. A medical care team will be alongside you during treatment to offer their service and support.

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