Primary bone cancer is a relatively uncommon condition, accounting for approximately 0.2% of all cancer cases, as reported by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Although the exact cause remains unknown, researchers suggest that hereditary factors may play a role in the development of this disease. It is important to note that most bone tumors are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. In many instances, when cancer is detected in the bone, it is actually a secondary cancer, having metastasized or spread from another part of the body, and therefore, not classified as bone cancer. Symptoms of bone cancer or cancer that has reached the bones can vary greatly.
Pain is typically the first sign of bone cancer, often manifesting as a mild, intermittent discomfort that may occur at night or following physical activity. In the beginning, over-the-counter medications can often alleviate this pain. However, as the disease progresses, the sensation may intensify, ultimately developing into a persistent ache. Describing the nature of the pain – whether it’s aching, stabbing, throbbing, or burning – can assist a physician in prescribing the appropriate pain relief medications and potentially aid in the diagnostic process.
Tingling, Numbness, or Burning Sensations
When bone cancer impacts the nerves within the bone, patients often experience a tingling, numb, or burning sensation. Describing nerve pain to a doctor can be challenging, as it differs from typical pain sensations. Bone cancer interferes with the normal function of bone cells, leading to irritation of interior nerves, damage to nerve fibers, and heightened nerve sensitivity. Oncologists note that as tumors interact with nerves inside the bone, they tend to grow larger, exacerbating these symptoms.
Stiff and Swollen Joints
Bone cancer frequently originates near or within a joint in the upper arms or legs, leading to tenderness in the surrounding area. The presence of a tumor can also cause stiffness, restricting the range of motion in the affected joint. Over time, swelling and redness may develop in the area where the pain first occurred, typically several weeks after the initial symptoms. The individual might also notice a lump or mass forming near the painful region. In order to diagnose the condition, a physician will carefully examine the area for swelling, tenderness, and any changes in the appearance of the surrounding skin.
Weakened Bones and Susceptibility to Fractures
In the majority of instances, bone tumors tend to develop in the long bones of the upper arms and legs, as well as the pelvis. Although these tumors are typically benign, they can also be malignant. The presence of cancer can weaken the bone where the tumor is located, potentially leading to fractures. Some individuals may develop a noticeable limp or suddenly experience severe pain in a bone that was previously sore – these could be signs of bone cancer. In certain cases, x-rays conducted for other conditions, such as sprained ankles or knee injuries, may inadvertently reveal benign tumors. It is important to note that fractures in bones weakened by cancer can occur adjacent to or directly through the bone tumor itself.
Lower Back Pain
Bone cancer in the pelvis can lead to lower back pain and sciatica, making it a challenge to diagnose since back pain is a common issue for adults. Pelvic bone cancer is most frequently diagnosed in individuals over the age of 45, and the diagnosis often follows persistent painful symptoms lasting more than a month. Those affected typically experience a sudden onset of back pain or sciatica, which primarily occurs at night and progressively worsens, remaining unresponsive to changes in position or bed rest. As there is no traumatic injury involved, most conventional therapies for treating back pain prove to be ineffective in these cases. This highlights the importance of seeking medical advice for persistent and worsening back pain, especially among older adults.
Many individuals battling cancer experience a fever at some point in their journey. While fever is not typically an early indication of bone cancer, it does signal that the body is combatting an infection or illness. When cancer impacts the immune system, the body’s ability to fend off infections is weakened. Fevers can suggest that the cancer has metastasized or progressed to an advanced stage. It’s crucial to seek medical attention if the fever is accompanied by pain or surpasses 103°F.
Fatigue is a common early symptom of bone cancer, often leaving individuals feeling drained even after carrying out the simplest tasks. This exhaustion is not relieved by sleep, and can be attributed to factors such as pain levels and anemia. Medical experts believe that anemia is directly connected to the impact cancer has on the central nervous system, muscle-energy metabolism, and circadian rhythms. Additionally, inadequate nutrition can further exacerbate fatigue for those battling bone cancer.
Night Sweats and Discomfort
Certain cancers, including bone cancer, can trigger night sweats, which are medically referred to as sleep hyperhidrosis. It’s important to note that overheating during sleep is not the cause of night sweats. Experts believe that this symptom may be linked to the hormonal changes that take place when diseases like bone cancer impact the body. Night sweats could be the body’s way of combating cancer or a response to stress and anxiety. Additionally, fevers can also contribute to sweating episodes.
Loss of Appetite and Unexplained Weight Loss
Another indicator of bone cancer is the unintentional loss of ten pounds or more. Fluctuations in weight and muscle loss are typical symptoms of cancer. Studies have shown that the body generates substances known as cytokines, which are proteins created by both immune and non-immune cells, in order to combat cancer. The production of these cytokines results in a reduced appetite, leading to inadequate nutrition as well as weight and muscle loss. In advanced cases of cancer, it’s common to observe cachexia, a condition characterized by severe weight loss and muscle wasting.
Anemia and Its Effects
Bone cancer that impacts the bone marrow can lead to anemia, which is characterized by a deficiency in healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. This type of cancer disrupts the production of red blood cells, resulting in insufficient hemoglobin levels and depriving the body of the oxygen it requires. Anemia can manifest as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and lightheadedness. To determine red blood cell levels, doctors can perform a complete blood count (CBC) test.