BONE CANCER : BREAKING THE MYTHS
What is Bone cancer?
Bone cancer is malignant tumour of the bones which can spread to lungs or other parts of the body. It may have arisen primarily from the bone itself (primary bone cancer) or more commonly, may have spread to the bones (secondary bone cancer) from cancer of some other body organ like Breast cancer, Prostate cancer etc.
Primary bone cancer usually occurs in growing children and young adolescents, whereas, secondary bone cancer usually occurs in older age group. Usually, the patient experiences pain in the affected area, which over the time, gets worse and continuous. There may also be swelling in the involved region. It can cause weakening of bones resulting in fracture. Some patients may attribute these symptoms to any prior antecedent trauma. Unintentional weight loss may also be seen. Sometimes, these patients are wrongly being treated for infection, thus delaying the correct treatment which may have a bearing on the final outcome.
How common is bone cancer?
Secondary bone cancer is the most common type of bone cancer with bone being the third most common site of cancer spread (metastasis) from other organs. However, primary bone cancers are rare accounting for less than 1% of all cancers.
Causes of bone cancer?
There are no known environmental or other hereditary factors which cause bone cancer, however, certain patients are at a greater risk for bone cancer which include:
* Patients who have received prior radiation therapy
* Patients with a history of Paget’s Disease
* Patients with hereditary retinoblastoma – a type of eye cancer that most commonly affects very young children
* Patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome – a rare genetic condition
How is it diagnosed?
A patient suspected with bone cancer needs to be investigated thoroughly with blood tests, X-rays, MRI to look for local extent of disease. Since bone cancer can spread to lungs and other bones, staging of the disease is done either with whole body PET CT or a bone scan with CT Chest. Along with that, a biopsy (usually with a needle) is required to establish the diagnosis. It’s important to do biopsy from the correct site since wrong biopsy site can be detrimental in limb salvage and can result in amputation (cutting the limb). Therefore, it’s recommended that the biopsy should always be done by the surgeon (Orthopaedic Oncologist) who will be doing the final surgery for bone cancer.
Treatment of bone cancer is a multidisciplinary approach requiring an Orthopaedic Oncologist (Bone & Soft tissue tumour specialist), Medical Oncologist (Chemotherapy Specialist), Radiation Oncologist (Radiotherapy specialist) and Pathologist (Specialist in tissue diagnosis).
Usually in primary bone cancers, chemotherapy is given to the patient followed by surgery to remove the diseased bone which is further followed by adjuvant chemotherapy. Limb salvage surgery is possible nowadays for bone cancers in which the part of the bone involved with tumour is removed surgically (rather than cutting the whole limb) and the defect is reconstructed with artificial joint, thereby saving the limb. In some cases, the cancerous bone so removed is given very high dose of radiation so as to kill all the cancer cells and the sterilised bone so formed is fixed back to the parent bone with the help of plates and screws, a technique commonly called as Extra Corporeal Radiation Therapy (ECRT). In children, since the artificial joint will not grow as the child grows leading to unequal limb lengths over a period of time, the defect can be reconstructed with expandable joint which can be lengthened as the child grows which allows to maintain limb length equality at the time of skeletal maturity.
Is cure possible in bone cancer?
With the current chemotherapy regimes and advanced surgical technology, cure is possible in upto 70-75% patients with primary bone cancer. In patients with secondary bone cancer, cure can still be achieved depending upon the primary cancer and the extent of disease. In advanced cases also, a lot can be done to control the disease and give a quality of life to the patient.
Is it possible to prevent bone cancer?
Since the exact cause of bone cancer is not known, as of now it’s not possible to prevent bone cancer.
Whom to consult?
First chance is the best chance when it comes to curing bone cancers. So, it’s advisable to seek treatment from a trained Orthopaedic Oncologist when confronted with a bone cancer to achieve maximum beneficial outcome.