Bone is the supporting framework for your body and performs several vital functions such as protection of internal organs and soft tissues, locomotion, harboring of bone marrow, storage of protein, minerals and nutrients, such as calcium.
Any abnormality in your genes causes uncontrollable growth of bone cells. It further leads to formation of lump or abnormal mass of tissues, resulting in a rare sarcoma called bone cancer. As per National Cancer Institute, this rare cancer accounts for <1% of all cancers.
It can affect any bone and develop in any part of the bone such as the surface or centre called the bone marrow. However, it is most commonly observed in the long bones of the arms and legs.
As the tumor grows, it compresses the normal bone cells and may metastasize to other parts of your body. A growing bone cancer can destroy your healthy tissues and weakens your bone, making it more susceptible to damage and fractures.
Awareness of this rare cancer is essential for early detection. It will help in prevention and reducing its burden, health care costs and mortality associated with it. So, let’s discuss the types, symptoms, risk factors and prevention of bone cancer in detail:
- Types of bone cancer
- Common signs and symptoms
- Risk factors that increase your risk of bone cancer
- Treatment of bone cancer
- Can bone cancer be prevented?
Types of bone cancer
Cancer of the bone can be primary or secondary. Primary bone cancer initiates in the cells of the bone. Various types of primary bone cancer are chondrosarcoma, fibrosarcoma, chordoma, osteosarcoma, Ewing tumor (Ewing sarcoma), giant cell tumor of bone.
Bone cancer can also spread to other parts of your body (secondary bone cancer). These include giant cell tumors of bone (also called osteoclastoma) and osteoblastoma. Compared to primary bone cancer, secondary bone cancer is more commonly reported.
Common signs and symptoms
Most of the symptoms of bone cancer are similar to the common symptoms of osteoporosis, arthritis, or injury. If you have bone cancer, you may experience persistent bone pain, lump in the affected area, joint stiffness, tenderness, and swelling; limping; and weak bones leading to a higher risk of fractures.
Other less common symptoms include fever, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, chills, and anemia. If you are witnessing any of these symptoms, then you should see your medical care provider in order to identify the cause. Want to know more about anemia in cancer patients, then click here!
Risk factors that increase your risk of bone cancer
The exact causes of bone tumors are not clear. However, certain factors might increase your chances of suffering from bone cancer.
(a) Genetic disorders
Various hereditary syndromes triggered by mutations in specific genes are known to contribute to the risk of bone cancer, including:
- Rothmund-Thompson syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and mutation of the retinoblastoma gene: These syndromes have been linked with a higher chance of osteosarcoma in children
- Multiple exostoses/multiple osteochondromas syndrome- It can raise your odds of getting chondrosarcoma
- Family history: Some chordomas and osteosarcomas have been reported to run in families. However, the underlying genetic mutations have not been yet recognized.
(b) Other conditions
- Paget's disease of the bone (a benign condition characterized by abnormal development of novel bone cells): Individuals with this condition have a greater likelihood of getting cancer of the bone.
- Multiple enchondromatosis: Patients with multiple enchondromatosis are more vulnerable to develop chondrosarcoma.
(c) Previous treatment for other conditions
- Bone marrow transplantation: People who have undergone a bone marrow transplantation for treating another condition may be more vulnerable to osteosarcoma.
- Anticancer drugs: Therapy with certain anticancer drugs, specifically alkylating agents may make you more susceptible to bone cancer.
- High-dose radiation: Exposure to radiation during radiotherapy can increase the risk of primary bone cancer.
This risk is usually more in young adults and those who were given higher doses of radiation. Radioactive minerals like strontium or radium may accumulate in the bones and trigger primary bone cancer.
Osteosarcoma is commonly reported in young adults and teenagers. Chondrosarcomas and spindle cell sarcomas tend to develop in adults (age 35 and 40). Most of the chondrosarcomas occur in older adults above the age of 60 years.
Treatment of bone cancer
Bone cancer is usually treated by surgery, radiotherapy and systemic therapy including chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy. However, the management of bone cancer is usually dependent on various factors such as type, stage and grade of cancer, patient age, preferences and overall health and possible side effects of medication.
For instance: Surgery is preferred for treatment of low grade primary bone tumors, whereas a combination of above treatments is preferred for treatment of high grade primary bone tumors.
Can bone cancer be prevented?
Most known risk factors for bone sarcoma cannot be altered. Except for exposure to radiation (during radiation therapy), no known lifestyle-linked or environmental causes of bone cancer exist. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there is, unfortunately, no known methodology to prevent bone cancer. However, you can reduce the risk of getting bone cancer by the following steps:
- Be aware of abnormalities in your genes, any family history of cancer or other medical conditions
- Eat a healthy and nutritious diet to keep your body fit. Calcium-rich foods are beneficial for your bones.
- Do physical exercise and yoga regularly as they aid to increase your bone strength. Read the benefits of yoga for cancer patients.
- Smoking is a no-go to live a happy life free from cancer.
Bone sarcoma can spread to other parts of the body, including other bones, or it may reoccur in the same place. A wide array of screening tests can aid to diagnose this rare sarcoma. Early diagnosis provides a better opportunity for successful treatment and also ensures a good chance of survival.
Thus, individuals with known risk factors should visit a physician regularly and talk about their personal risk of getting bone sarcoma. This usually includes patients having retinoblastoma, multiple osteochondromas syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, or other conditions in which the risk of bone cancer is inherited.
If you are worried about any changes you experience, then visiting a doctor for screening and detection prior to the onset of a more destructive stage is important.
You can also read about types of blood cancer!
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