Metastases are cancer cells that have spread from the primary tumor to other body parts. When these cancer cells settle in the bones, they are called bone metastases. Bone is the most common site for metastases, accounting for more than half of all metastatic sites.
Bone metastases can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on their location and size. They may not cause any symptoms at first, but as they grow, they can lead to pain, fractures, and problems with organ function.
Bone metastases are usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Some newer treatments, such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy, are also used to treat bone metastases.
What are the symptoms of bone metastases?
The most common symptom of bone metastases is pain. Pain from bone metastases can be mild, moderate, or severe. It may come and go or be constant. The pain may worsen with activity, at night, or when you lie down.
Pressure on nerves near the tumor can also cause numbness, tingling, and weakness. Other symptoms of bone metastases include:
- Anemia (low blood count)
- Hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood)
- Spinal cord compression (pressure on the spinal cord that can cause paralysis) Kidney damage
How are bone metastases diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have bone metastases, they will start with a physical exam and medical history. They may also order one or more of the following tests:
- Blood tests: These can help check for anemia, high calcium levels, and kidney damage.
- X-ray: This is the most common test used to look for bone metastases. A single x-ray may not show small tumors, so your doctor may order a series of x-rays over time.
- CT scan: This imaging test takes detailed pictures of your bones and can often detect small tumors that might not be seen on an x-ray.
- PET scan: This imaging test uses a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) to show areas of cancer in the body.
- Biopsy: In this procedure, a small tissue sample is taken from the suspicious area and examined under a microscope. A biopsy is the only way to diagnose bone metastases definitively.
How are bone metastases treated?
The treatment goals for bone metastases are to relieve symptoms, prevent or treat complications, and improve quality of life. Treatment options include:
Surgery may be used to remove the tumor or relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It can be used to shrink tumors, relieve pain, and prevent fractures.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often combined with other treatments, such as surgery and radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy is a type of chemotherapy that targets specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells.
Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune system fight cancer cells. Bone-modifying agents. These drugs slow down the activity of bone-destroying cells, which can help relieve pain and prevent fractures.
Pain medication can be used to relieve the pain caused by bone metastases.
Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy, nutritional counseling, or psychological support to help you cope with your diagnosis and treatment.
What is the prognosis for bone metastases?
The prognosis for bone metastases depends on many factors, including the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, and response to treatment. The prognosis is better for patients with small tumors that can be completely removed with surgery.
The prognosis is worse for patients with large tumors or multiple tumors that have spread to other body parts.
Bone metastasis is a severe condition that can cause significant pain and disability. It is not always possible for doctors to remove all cancer cells. However, many treatment options are available to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Many people with bone metastases can live long and productive lives with proper treatment.
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