Bone cancer is an uncommon cancer that begins in a bone. Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the long bones that make up the arms and legs.
Several types of bone cancer exist. Some types of bone cancer occur primarily in children, while others affect mostly adults.
The term "bone cancer" doesn't include cancers that begin elsewhere in the body and spread (metastasize) to the bone. Instead, those cancers are named for where they began, such as breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone.
The treatment options for your bone cancer are based on the type of cancer you have, the stage of the cancer, your overall health and your preferences. Different bone cancers respond to different treatments, and your doctors can help guide you in what is best for your cancer. For example, some bone cancers are treated with just surgery; some with surgery and chemotherapy; and some with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The goal of surgery is to remove the entire bone cancer. In most cases, this involves special techniques to remove the tumor in one single piece, along with a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it. Types of surgery used to treat bone cancer include:
- Surgery to remove the cancer but spare the limb. If a bone cancer can be separated from nerves and other tissue, the surgeon may be able to remove the bone cancer and spare the limb. Since some of the bone is removed with the cancer, the surgeon replaces the lost bone with some bone from another area of your body, with material from a bone bank or with a special metal prosthesis.
- Surgery for cancer that doesn't affect the limbs. If bone cancer occurs in bones other than those of the arms and legs, surgeons may remove the bone and some surrounding tissue, such as in cancer that affects a rib, or may remove the cancer while preserving as much of the bone as possible, such as in cancer that affects the spine. Bone removed during surgery can be replaced with a piece of bone from another area of the body, with material from a bone bank or with a special metal prosthesis.
- Surgery to remove a limb. Bone cancers that are very large or located in a complicated point on the bone may require surgery to remove all or part of a limb (amputation). As other treatments have been developed, this procedure is becoming less common. You'll likely be fitted with an artificial limb after surgery and go through training to learn to do everyday tasks using your new limb.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is most often given through a vein (intravenously). The chemotherapy medications travel throughout your body.
Chemotherapy may also be used in people with bone cancer that has spread beyond the bone to other areas of the body.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a special machine moves around you and aims the energy beams at precise points on your body.
Radiation therapy, typically given along with chemotherapy, is often used before an operation. This may increase the possibility that amputation won't be necessary.
Radiation therapy may also be used in people with bone cancer that can't be removed with surgery. After surgery, radiation therapy may be used to kill any cancer cells that may be left behind. For people with advanced bone cancer, radiation therapy may help control signs and symptoms, such as pain.