Bone Metastasis: Symptoms and Treatments

21 June, 2020
Bone metastasis is a complication of advanced cancers. It's very serious, and we'll tell you what you can do about it when the situation arises.
 

Bone metastasis is the progression of certain cancers, ending up in a serious complication that affects the bones. Basically, neoplastic cells from a tumor in an organ transfer to a bone.

First, we must emphasize that bone metastasis isn’t the presence of primary bone cancer. In other words, the disease didn’t start in the bone tissue, but in another organ, like the breast or lungs.

This means that the disease spread to the bones. However, usually, it spreads to the spinal column and in long bones. This has to do with the way the blood and lymphatic circulation drains your fluids.

Once a neoplastic cell gets to a bone, it starts to multiply. Bone metastasis usually makes something that stimulates bone tissue cells: osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Then, it stimulates too much, and the tissue suffers.

Next, the tissue becomes weak because of the osteoclasts, or it hardens because of the osteoblasts. Either way, it’s harmful.

Also, most cancers can metastasize, but it’s more common for breast and prostate cancer. Once it happens, patients have symptoms both for the primary tumor and the new ones that spread.

Symptoms of bone metastasis

Different types of bone metastasis share common symptoms, beyond the different tumors that cause them. Some of the usual signs are:

  • Pain: This is the main characteristic. However, it may or may not be persistent pain. In some patients, it gets worse with movement, whereas others feel it at all times, even while resting. So, it can make treatment difficult.
 
  • Fractures: As we already mentioned, metastases can weaken bone. A weak bone is more likely to break with minimal effort. It’s important for cancer patients to be very careful to prevent fractures.
  • Hypercalcemia: The tumor can actually make calcium release into the blood. As it gets worse, more symptoms appear. For example, patients experience constipation, poor appetite, and frequent urination. Without appetite and lots of urination, you can get dehydrated.
  • Compressions: One of the common places to see bone metastasis is in the spine. Damaged vertebrae can shrink in size, overlap each other, and change position. Then, the nerves or spinal cord can become pinched.
A patient with a fractured wrist.

Keep reading: Diagnosis and Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Treatments for bone metastasis

There are two ways to approach treatments. You could have a more localized or systemic approach. The choice will depend on the type of initial cancer, the clinical condition of the patient and the availability of the treatment. Let’s take a closer look.

Systemic options

  • Chemotherapy: This is using drugs that interrupt some of the processes of the tumor cells. It’s usually the most common option.
 
  • Radiation therapy: Through radiation from special equipment, it penetrates the body to destroy cancer cells. The number of sessions and the dose of radiation therapy carries from patient to patient. Usually, it’s very effective at controlling pain from bone metastasis.
  • Hormone therapy: This uses medications that block particular hormones. It’s a therapy that’s common in breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: This also uses medications, but they emulate functions of the immune system.
  • Radiopharmaceuticals: In this case, radiation is emitted from inside the body, and not with equipment from outside. Radiopharmaceuticals are injected into the patient’s body, travel to bone metastasis, and then attack the tumor cells.
A doctor talking to his patients about bone metastasis.

Localized options

  • Biphosphonates: Biphosphonates block the action of osteoclasts to prevent them from destroying healthy bone.
  • Denosumab: Similar to biphosphonates, denosumab also blocks osteoclasts. It works a little differently from the others, but it creates a similar final result.
  • Vertebroplasty: When bone metastasis is in the spine, there’s an alternative to direct injection of fast-acting bone glue. This is called vertebroplasty. In fact, it’s effective enough to calm the pain.
 
  • Surgery: Finally, surgical treatment is available if you meet certain conditions. If the metastasis is accessible, a surgeon can operate and remove as much as he can.

Find out more: Researchers Have Discovered a New Cancer Treatment that Might be Better than Chemotherapy

Act against bone metastasis

The appearance of bone metastasis is a serious cancer complication. It’s important for the patient to have a team of trained professionals that can give them the best available options. With the new therapeutic options available, it’s possible to improve the quality of life of people that suffer from this disease.

 
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