Bone Metastases

Cancerous tumours in bone that have spread from a cancer elsewhere in the body

  • More common in elderly people
  • Risk factors depend on the type
  • Gender and lifestyle are not significant factors

Bone metastases, also known as secondary bone cancer, are tumours that have spread from another part of the body. Metastases most often develop in the ribs, pelvis, skull, or spine. The condition occurs much more commonly than primary bone cancer, especially in older people, who are more likely to have cancer elsewhere in their body. The cancers that most often spread to bone are those originating in the breast, the lung, the thyroid gland, the kidney, and the prostate gland.

What are the symptoms?

Bone metastases may cause the following symptoms in addition to those of the main cancer:

  • Gnawing bone pain that may become worse at night.

  • Swelling of the affected area.

  • Tenderness over the affected area.

The affected bones fracture easily, often after minor injury.

What might be done?

If you already have a cancer somewhere else in your body, you may have X-rays or radionuclide scanning to check whether the cancer has spread to the bones. If the site of the primary cancer is unknown, you may need further tests to find out where the metastasis came from. For example, women may have a breast X-ray (see Mammography) to look for evidence of breast cancer.

Your doctor will probably direct treatment at your original cancer. He or she may also make arrangements for you to have a course of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or hormonal therapy to relieve bone pain.

The outlook for people with bone metastases usually depends on the site of the original cancer and how successfully it can be treated. However, the best that can usually be achieved after bone metastases is a period of remission.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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