Cancer which develops in specific organs of the human body, including the lungs, breast, or prostate, among others, can sometimes spread into the bone, causing what is known as metastatic bone disease, or MBD. Approximately more than 1.2 million new cancer cases are diagnosed every year, where about 50 percent can spread, or metastasize, to the bones.
Through medical advancements, patients diagnosed with several different types of cancers, especially lung, breast, and prostate cancer, can live longer. However, primary cancers in more patients go through bone metastases, where they disperse to the bone. Meanwhile, other types of cancers do not disperse so easily to the bone. The most common cancers which develop in the organs and spread to the bones include:
Metastatic bone disease, or MBD, can damage and weaken the affected bone, causing pain along the site of spread. Moreover, patients with MBD are at higher risk of suffering fractures or broken bones. The painful symptoms associated with MBD can make it challenging for the patient to engage in regular physical activities. The main concern of patients with metastatic bone disease is the loss in quality of life.
The extent of the effects of metastatic bone disease on a patient can change and is associated with how cancer has spread, which bones are affected, and how severe the bone harm is. Furthermore, there is a range of treatment choices available to treat MBD. Treatment help patients deal with pain to maintain activity levels and preserve their independence.
Metastatic Bone Disease Explained
The bones are the most common site of spread for cancers which begin in the organs, subsequent to the lung and the liver. Because many patients experience no painful symptoms of metastases to the liver and the lungs, these are often not discovered until the disease is in an advanced stage. In contrast, bone metastases are generally painful when they develop. Cancer most commonly spreads to these sites in the human skeleton:
- Upper arm
- Long bones of the leg
A tumor can completely destroy the bone at the site of spread, a process referred to as osteolytic bone destruction. Damage or weakened bones are most common in cancers which have spread from the lung, thyroid, kidney, and colon. New bone, called osteoblastic, may also form due to the spread of cancer, more often seen in cancers from the stomach, bladder, and prostate.
Breast cancer often behaves in a combined osteolytic and osteoblastic method. Since the cancer cells secrete factors that interact with all the cells in the human skeleton, causing bone destruction, new bone formation, or both, osteolytic and osteoblastic metastatic bone disease happens. Also, breast cancer may commonly cause MBD in the hip and/or pelvis.
As a result of bone damage and weakness, patients with metastatic bone disease are prone to fractures. Broken bones caused by MBD are termed “pathological fractures”. Sometimes, the bone may be so weak that a fracture is imminent, termed “impending pathologic fractures”. Bedrest for lengthy intervals due to broken bones may result in chemical imbalances in the bloodstream, such as raised calcium levels, known as hypercalcemia. Patients with cancer that has spread to the spine can develop nerve damage which can result in paralysis or loss of using their arms and/or legs.
A cancer patient who experiences any pain, especially in the back, arms, and legs should notify their doctor immediately. Pain which manifests without engaging in physical activities is especially concerning. The most common symptoms of
- Pain: MBD’s most prevalent symptom is pain. Patients may experience pain along their hip and/or pelvis, upper and lower extremities, and spine because the tumor may have damaged or weakened the bone.
- Fractures: Broken bones, or fractures, can range from mild to severe and are generally a clear indication of the presence of MBD.
- Anemia: The most common sites of spread, skull, spine, ribs, upper and lower extremities, and hip and/or pelvis, correspond to regions of bone marrow which produce high levels of red blood cells, responsible for carrying oxygen to cells. Anemia, or decreased red blood cell production, is a frequent blood abnormality with MBD.
Before following through with treatment for metastatic bone disease, it’s essential for the healthcare professional to understand the patient’s symptoms as well as their overall health and wellness. The doctor will ask for the patient’s medical history. After the medical history, the healthcare professional will perform a physical examination on the patient. The doctor may also utilize imaging diagnostics to help with the patient’s diagnosis.
- X-rays: After the initial diagnosis, they may order x-rays. Because pain may often originate from other regions of the body, the healthcare professional will also order x-rays beyond the regions where the patient is experiencing discomfort. X-rays may tell an oncologist a great deal of information regarding how much bone is affected.
- Other imaging tests: The doctor may also order a bone scan. This test can determine if other bones are involved with metastatic bone disease. In select situations, a computerized tomography, or CT, scan and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, may be ordered, especially in scenarios where the spine or hip and/or pelvis are involved.
A variety of cancers can commonly cause metastatic bone disease, or MBD, throughout different regions of the human skeleton. Bone metastases can cause painful symptoms, ultimately affecting an individual’s quality of life. Research studies have demonstrated that metastatic bone disease in the hip and/or pelvis is a prevalent health issue associated with breast cancer. Treatment may vary on the progression of the problem.Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight
Metastatic Bone Disease Treatment
Advances in surgical techniques, as well as radiation and medical treatment approaches, have significantly improved the quality of life of patients suffering from cancer that has spread to the bone from the site of origin. Treatment options for MBD are based upon how far
In many cases of metastatic bone disease, cancer has progressed to multiple bony sites. As a result, treatment is concentrated on managing the symptoms of pain and bone weakness as it is not intended to be curative. The most common treatment option for MBD includes drugs and/or
Patients with metastatic bone disease require a team approach. A medical oncologist works closely with a radiation
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topics: Acute Back Pain
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