Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Bone cancer is extremely rare. In 2010, National Cancer Institute estimated 2,650 new cases of bone cancer in the entire United States, many in children. After 10 years of age, most types of bone cancers are more common in males than females.
Bone cancer pain usually is a dull pain that begins gradually. The pain may be more noticeable at night. Dr. Henry DeGroot, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in oncology, has many bone cancer patients who thought they had a muscle pull or a sprain. The most common bone cancer, osteosarcoma, affects the active 20-year-old age group. There are a few fast-growing bone cancers that can cause severe pain. DeGroot lists high-grade chondrosarcoma as a tumor that produces excruciating pain.
According to the University of Pennsylvania, most cancers occur near a joint in the arm or leg. Osteosarcomas produce abnormal bone, and chondrosarcomas produce abnormal cartilage that may expand out of the bone. The palpable mass includes soft tissue swelling around the bone tumor. Bone cancers can be found in the spine, ribs, and pelvis. Masses in these areas are harder to feel.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania report that it is rare for a fracture to occur without being preceded by pain. On X-ray, the fracture will be through an abnormal area of bone. DeGroot cites metastatic breast cancer as the most common cause of a fracture through a bone tumor. When the fracture is fixed, a biopsy can determine the type of cancer.
Bowel and bladder function can be affected by bone cancer. Chondrosarcomas, which most often occur in those over 60 years of age, affects the pelvic bones. The tumor can grow fairly large, causing a need to urinate frequently or obstructing urination altogether. Any bone cancer tumor in the spine that presses on nerves can cause urinary or bowel incontinence.