Bone Cancer

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What Is Bone Cancer?

There are a few types of bone cancers, but all bone cancers fall into one of two subtypes:

  • Primary bone cancer — cancer that starts in the bone.
  • Secondary bone cancer — cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the bone (metastatic bone cancer).

Types of primary bone cancers we treat

Experts from the musculoskeletal oncology program at UPMC Orthopaedic Care treat the following common types of primary bone cancer:

  • Chondrosarcoma — often found in the pelvic, thigh, or arm bones.
  • Chordoma — commonly found in the skull base and tailbone.

Symptoms and signs of bone cancer depend on the location and size of the tumor.

Risk factors and causes of bone cancer

It is unknown what causes bone cancer. A few possible causes are genetics (family history) and radiation treatment.

Other risk factors that may cause bone cancer include:

  • Prior history of breast, lung, prostate, kidney, or thyroid cancer.
  • Paget's disease (a noncancerous bone condition).
  • Injury to a bone causing chronic infection.

Make an appointment for bone cancer care

To request an appointment with an orthopaedic expert at the musculoskeletal oncology program or learn about bone cancer services:

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Bone Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Bone cancer signs and symptoms

The most common symptom of bone cancer is a dull ache in the affected bone that may worsen at night or when using the bone. Over time — as the cancer grows — the pain becomes constant.

Other common symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • Pain at rest.
  • Swelling or a lump at the location of the tumor.
  • Deep bone pain, severe enough to wake you up.
  • Bone fractures.

Some signs of bone cancer depend on the size and location of the tumor.

For example, bone tumors in your:

  • Spine can lead to numbness or tingling.
  • Leg may cause you to limp.

Cancer can also cause you to lose weight and feel overly tired.

If you experience any of these symptoms for a long time without a known reason, you should consult with a doctor.

Bone cancer diagnosis

A doctor may suspect you have a bone tumor after conducting a physical exam and listening to your symptoms.

But other diseases and infections can mimic bone cancer. That's why the musculoskeletal oncology program at UPMC Orthopaedic Care uses advanced imaging technology and techniques to detect and confirm a diagnosis of bone cancer.

Your doctor may order one or more of the following bone cancer diagnostic tests:

  • X-ray — uses radiation to take a picture of the inside of your body, especially the bones. Often, an x-ray is the only test you'll need.
  • Bone scan — involved an injection of a radioactive substance into the bloodstream. Your bone tissue absorbs the substance and the scan tracks it to look for bone tumors.
  • CT scan — uses a computer to make images of organs and bones inside the body.
  • MRI scan — uses magnetic waves to record images of structures inside the body. MRI scanning can sometimes yield an exact diagnosis of soft tissue tumors.
  • Biopsy — involves removing a sample of tissue to test for cancer cells. Our doctors perform these simple procedures under local anesthesia and, whenever possible, opt for minimally invasive biopsy techniques. Most people can go home the same day.

Make an appointment for bone cancer care

To request an appointment with an orthopaedic expert at the musculoskeletal oncology program or learn about bone cancer services:

Learn more about bone cancer symptoms and diagnosis

The links below will open a new browser window.

UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

From our Health Library:

Bone Cancer Treatment

The musculoskeletal oncology program at UPMC Orthopaedics uses the latest methods to diagnose and treat cancerous and noncancerous bone and soft tissue tumors.

Bone cancer treatment options

Treatment for bone cancer doesn’t always mean surgery.

Once your doctor makes a diagnosis of bone cancer, we will perform staging tests to find out if the bone cancer has spread and to what extent.

We then develop a custom treatment plan, based on your overall health and bone cancer:

  • Type
  • Stage
  • Location

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy for soft tissue and bone tumors

Radiation therapy shrinks tumors and kills cancer cells. Radiation may be external (directed at the tumor from a source outside the body) or internal (radioactive materials are placed inside the body, near the cancer cells).

Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells. The drugs — either pills or injections — enter the bloodstream and travel through the body, killing mostly cancer cells, but some healthy cells too.

Bone cancer surgery

Bone cancer surgery removes:

  • The cancerous soft tissue or bone tumor
  • Nearby tissues
  • Nearby lymph nodes, in some cases

Whenever possible, our orthopaedic surgeons will remove the cancerous part of the bone without amputation. They will then use state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to replace the cancerous tissue that they removed.

Adding radiation therapy or chemotherapy can help avoid the need for amputation and prevent the cancer from returning or spreading.

Make an appointment for bone cancer care

To request an appointment with an orthopaedic expert at the musculoskeletal oncology program or learn about bone cancer services:

Learn more about bone cancer treatment

The links below will open a new browser window.

UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

 

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Bone Cancer and Soft Tissue Tumor Frequently Asked Questions

What is bone cancer?

Bone cancers fall into one of two categories:

  • Primary bone cancer — cancer that starts in the bone.
  • Secondary bone cancer — cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the bone.

While many advanced cancers can spread to the bone, the American Cancer Society estimates that primary bone cancers account for less than 0.2 percent of all cancers.

Although rare as compared to some other forms of cancer, bone cancer occurs when cancer cells — cells that divide without control or order — grow in the bone.

When cancer cells divide in excess, the body accumulates more cells than it needs. These cells form a mass of tissue called a malignant or cancerous tumor.

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What causes bone cancer?

No one knows the main causes of bone cancer. We do know that genetics play a major role in most cases.

There are also certain factors that may increase your risk for getting bone cancer, including:

  • Prior history of breast, lung, prostate, kidney, or thyroid cancer
  • Paget's disease (a noncancerous bone condition)
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Injury to a bone causing chronic infection
  • A family history of bone cancer

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What are the general symptoms and signs of bone cancer?

There are no specific symptoms of bone cancer. Symptoms depend on the location and size of the tumor.

However, some common bone cancer symptoms may include:

  • Pain at the tumor location
  • Swelling or a lump at the location of the tumor
  • Deep bone pain severe enough to wake you up
  • Bone fractures (rarely)

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What is a soft tissue tumor?

Soft tissue tumors occur in muscles, fat, and connective tissues.

Soft tissue tumors can range from harmless things, such as a lipoma or simple fatty tumor, to dangerous diseases such as soft tissue sarcomas (cancers).

These tumors can occur throughout the body, but are most common in the:

  • Thigh
  • Buttock
  • Abdomen
  • Calf

Treatment of soft tissue tumors depends on the exact type.

Benign, noncancerous tumors — such as lipomas — often require no treatment. Doctors can also remove them surgically.

Soft tissue sarcomas generally require surgery because they can be much more aggressive. Doctors may use radiation therapy or even chemotherapy to treat some of these tumors.

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What are the general symptoms of soft tissue tumors?

Soft tissue tumors usually present as a lump. This lump may or may not grow over time, but stability over months or years does not automatically guarantee that the tumor is not cancerous.

Counter intuitively, soft tissue tumors that hurt are often noncancerous. They may represent a reaction to trauma or other inflammatory condition.

Soft tissue sarcomas (cancers) rarely cause substantial pain. Instead, they are simply painless lumps that may or may not grow.

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What are the different types of bone and soft tissue cancers?

There are many kinds of bone cancers and cancers of the supporting or soft tissues. Some cancers are more common in children and others may occur later in life.

The main types of bone and soft tissue cancers we treat at the musculoskeletal oncology program at UPMC Orthopaedic Care are:

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Make an appointment for bone cancer care

To request an appointment with an orthopaedic expert at the musculoskeletal oncology program or learn about bone cancer services: