Bone metastasis happens when cancer cells from other organs spread to the bones. This can cause many problems and difficulties, such as broken bones and pain. Of all the types of cancer, most of them can spread to the bones, yet there are some that are mainly known to do so.
Bone metastasis can appear in any bone but is more common in the upper leg bone (femur), the ribs, the skull, the hip bone, or the upper arm bone. When you have this disease, your body is either making too much bone or breaking it down too fast. Both of these sudden changes can make your bones break more easily.
In this article, we are going to find out what cancers are known to cause bone metastasis more commonly and the symptoms of this condition.
1. Breast cancer
This disease spreads to the bones more often than you might think. Actually, more than half of those with stage IV develop bone metastases. It is known that it can spread to any bone, but it is more common in the pelvis, spine, ribs, and long bones of the arms and legs.
Probably the main symptom of bone metastasis is a new pain with an unknown cause. At first, you might notice that the pain comes and goes, but over time it will become constant. This might be a little bit confusing because sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between bone metastasis and, for example, exercise strain or arthritis pain.
If you notice that the pain is the same or, in some cases, worse when you lie down or rest, it would be a good idea to visit your doctor. Prompt treatment can prevent your bones from breaking.
2. Kidney cancer
Renal cell cancer is one of the most common types of this disease. It is actually among the 10 most common ones in the world, and it affects both women and men. Of all malignancies, renal cancer is responsible for 2–3 percent of them. Also, nearly one-third of the newly diagnosed cases of this condition are already metastatic at the time of the initial presentation. Usually, it metastasizes to the lungs, and this happens in 50% of the cases. After this, skeleton metastasis occurs in 20% to 50% of the cases.
Kidney cancer has a low sensibility to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. That means that these procedures are not as effective with this condition as they are with others. Because of this, fighting kidney cancer and trying to keep it under control and prevent metastases is still difficult for doctors.
3. Lung cancer
This one metastasizes to the bones quite often. According to a study that was published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network in 2021, more than one-third of the patients who have this condition and it affects the lungs will develop bone metastases at some point during their illness.
Bone metastasis occurs when cancerous cells from the lungs, from the original tumor, break off and enter the bloodstream, then travel to the lymph system until they reach your bones. After that, these cells weaken the bones and produce pain. The most affected bones are those that are central and large, such as the spine, pelvis, or ribs. Sometimes they spread to the long bones of the legs and arms.
In 80% of cases, the first symptom of bone metastasis is pain. At first, this pain may be dull and resemble a muscle strain, but after a while, it will intensify and gradually become severe. Also, this pain can become worse at night.
4. Prostate cancer
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common type of this disease among American men. According to the American Cancer Society, the estimates for 2023 are the following: prostate cancer is going to cause about 34,700 deaths, and there are going to be approximately 288.300 new cases of this condition.
In his lifetime, one out of every eight men will be diagnosed with this disease, and more than half of them are older than 65 years. The average age at diagnosis is 66 years.
If this condition enters stage 4, that means it has metastasized, and prostate cancer is known to spread to the bones. More than 60% of men with stage 4 prostate cancer have bone metastases.
It is better to seek treatment if you notice any symptoms because this can help you manage any complications, like severe pains and fractures.
5. Thyroid cancer
Unlike other cancers, this one is generally detected much earlier. Most people find out that they have this condition around the age of 51. Also, this type of cancer is more common among women. The condition is three times more prevalent in women than men.
When cancer spreads, the bones unintentionally offer a welcoming place for tumors to grow. This can cause spinal cord compression and fractures.
According to researchers from the University of Michigan, those who have bone metastasis have a poorer life expectancy than those who have metastasis to other organs. Hopefully, thyroid cancer is detected early, and it usually doesn’t spread. Only 8% of those diagnosed with thyroid cancer had metastases in their bones.
The most common symptoms of bone metastasis
Maybe this is the biggest sign that something is wrong with your bones. The pain is initially dull and might not concern you, but over time it will become increasingly severe. Usually, this pain is achy and comes from the hips, back, or chest. Also, it can be more severe in the morning, right after you wake up, and will not get better if you rest.
Not all pains mean that you have bone metastasis, but it is advised to inform your cancer care team about any new symptoms you are developing.
Weakness and numbness
If cancer has spread to the spine, it can press on or squeeze the spinal cord. This is called spinal cord compression and is generally a severe condition. The spinal cord has many nerves that help you move and feel your body.
If those nerves are pressed on or squeezed, they will not respond well, and you can feel numbness and weakness in the area of your body that is below the tumor.
Most of the time, this will happen with your lower body, and you can expect to experience difficulty controlling your bowel movements and urinating.
Bone metastasis weakens the bones, which can lead to breaking and fracturing. In general, fractures occur after an injury or fall, but if your bones are frail, you might get a fracture from ordinary activities such as bending over, coughing, or stepping out of the car. Doctors call these pathological fractures.
If your bone breaks, this can cause severe pain, swelling, and the inability to move.
Fatigue, loss of appetite, and thirst
During their division process, cancer cells are damaging the bones, and calcium is released into the bloodstream. This can lead to hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in your blood). Your body will try to eliminate the excess calcium, which can lead to excessive thirst followed by frequent urination.
Hypercalcemia might also cause nausea, a loss of appetite, and insomnia. These symptoms are extremely concerning, and if you notice any of them, immediately inform the specialist who is taking care of you.
Nutrition is extremely important, and if you want to know more about it and learn what to eat when suffering from this condition, the following book might be a good place to start: Cancer Nutrition and Recipes For Dummies
You should also read: 9 Secret Messages Your Teeth Are Trying to Send You