Symptoms and treatment of secondary bone cancer
I have cancer. I'd like to know what the symptoms would be if it spread to the bone.
If a cancer spreads to the bone it is called secondary bone cancer. Several different kinds of primary cancer can spread to bone, including
The symptoms may depend on which bones the cancer spreads to but can include
- Pain due to breakdown of the bone – the pain is continuous and described as gnawing. You may feel it as backache which gets worse despite resting.
- Weakness or fracture of the affected bones
- Raised calcium level in the blood, which can cause confusion, vomiting, bone pain, kidney stones and constipation
- Weakness in the legs – pressure on the spinal cord from cancer cells in the spinal bones causes numbness and paralysis of the legs, and also incontinence if it is not treated
- Low levels of blood cells – blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be crowded out by the cancer cells, causing anaemia, low resistance to infection, bruising and bleeding.
Remember that if you have symptoms such as leg weakness, numbness or continence problems, this could be due to the cancer pressing on your spinal cord. This is an emergency and you need to contact your cancer specialist as soon as possible.
The symptoms mentioned above can often be treated and made much better with various forms of treatment. The treatments your doctor offers may depend on the type of primary cancer you have. The primary cancer is where the cancer has spread from. For example, if you have prostate cancer, your doctor may suggest hormone therapy. If you have breast cancer, your doctor may suggest chemotherapy or hormone therapy, depending on the hormone status of your breast cancer.
The treatment aims to reduce the number of cancer cells in the bone. Radiotherapy to affected bones is often very helpful. It can kill some of the cancer cells in the area and allow the bone to repair and strengthen itself.
For more information about the best type of treatment for your cancer, you need to look at the section about the type of cancer you have – for example the lung cancer section if your cancer has spread to the bones from the lung. The section on bone cancer is about primary bone cancer and will not be relevant to you.
- Pain can be reduced with radiotherapy, painkillers and other treatments
- Weak bones can be strengthened with surgery, bisphosphonates or radiotherapy
- Raised calcium in the blood can be treated with bisphosphonates, fluid and a drug called calcitonin
- Pressure on the spinal cord from cancer cells in the spinal bones needs to be treated urgently with steroids, radiotherapy and surgery
- Low levels of blood cells can be treated with blood transfusions or platelet transfusions
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