Primary bone cancer is the name given to any form of cancer that begins in the bone. In comparison to cancers that occur in organs, or that spreads to bone tissue, bone cancer can be considered fairly uncommon. As you may well be aware the bones in your body have several functions. They help to protect and support your internal organs, such as the skull. You will also find that muscles will pull against the bones in order to make the body move. Bone marrow is also used to make and store blood cells. It is important to remember that any form of cancer that first begins in the bone is called primary bone cancer. It most commonly occurs in the arms and legs, but this is not to say that it cannot occur in any other bone of the body. Unfortunately children and young people are far more likely to have bone cancer than adults.
There are three main forms of treatment for bone cancer and these are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The specific type of treatment for bone cancer that your doctor will recommend will have much to do with your age, general health and at what stage your cancer has developed.
Surgery – the type of surgery you will need to undergo will, once again, very much depend on the size of the cancer, whether it has grown into any of the tissues that surround the bone and where exactly it is located in your body.
Limb salvage surgery is typically used to take out the bit of the bone where the cancer is located. Once the bone containing the cancer has been removed it is usually replaced with either a bone graft or a prosthesis, otherwise known as a piece of metal. The graft will usually be from a piece of healthy bone that can be taken from elsewhere in your body. However a bone graft can also be taken directly from another person or specifically grown in a laboratory. Should you need to use bone from another person this is often referred to as an allograft. You will actually find that this is a very skilled and specialised type of surgery and will usually only be performed by specialist surgeons.
Amputation is often considered a last resort and can be extremely devastating for a patient. However, this may be the only alternative to cure your cancer. If the bone tumour has spread into the tissues that surround the bone, then amputation may be required. Unfortunately, if your surgeon simply removed the tumour, there is a likelihood that the cancer will return. In some cases the tumour may be in such a position that it will affect the overall functioning of that specific limb.
Metastatectomy is the surgical procedure for removing primary bone cancer that has spread. Unfortunately this form of surgery may not always be possible and it will depend on where the secondary cancers have spread to, and their shape and size.
Chemotherapy can often work very well on certain types of bone cancer. This is an extremely intensive treatment and it may be able to completely cure your bone cancer. Often chemotherapy is used in combination with surgery to treat bone cancer. Certain forms of bone cancer will require chemotherapy treatment prior to, and after surgery. The treatment you will receive before surgery will help to shrink the cancer and thus make it far easier to remove from the body. By reducing the size of the cancer you may be able to undergo limb salvage surgery rather than an amputation. It is important to remember however, that your blood count will have to drop back to normal before proceeding with surgery. Chemotherapy that is performed after surgery will aim to kill off any cancer cells that managed to escape from the tumour, prior to it being removed. This will actually lower the risk of cancer returning in future.
Radiotherapy can form an integral part of many bone cancer treatments. It will typically shrink the tumour and, once again, make it far easier to remove. Radiotherapy is usually performed after surgery in order to kill off any cancer cells that may have been left behind. Often you may find that surgery to remove a tumour is far too difficult, and in these cases a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used instead. For certain forms of cancer, such as Ewing’s sarcoma and osteosarcoma, radiotherapy is typically used to relieve the symptoms and to treat advanced forms of bone cancer. Cancer is known to cause a lot of pressure on the bones and, therefore, radiotherapy is a fantastic way to shrink the cancers and offer you some pain relief. However radiotherapy is rarely, if ever, used to treat the form of cancer known as chondrosarcoma. This is mainly because this is an extremely advanced type of bone tumour and unfortunately radiotherapy will not work very well.