Bone Metastasis

What is Bone Metastasis?

When cancerous cells spread from the original source of the tumor to your bones, that is called bone metastasis. Nearly all types of malignant cancer can spread, or metastasize, to bones and cause fragility in the skeleton. Often, bone metastasis is discovered in the spine, thigh or pelvis when you start to experience pain.

As the tumors grow, they weaken the bone structure and lead to fractures and breaks that are difficult to heal. The cancerous cells also interfere with the body’s ability to make new bone cells, called osteoblasts. Without new bone cells, the bone develops holes and is more susceptible to breaks.

What are the Symptoms of Bone Metastasis?

If you have bone metastasis, you may experience pain in your bones as well as one or more breaks. In the pelvis, damage to the bone can lead to urinary and bowel incontinence. You may also have trouble engaging in physical activity that you once did, because your legs and arms become weaker.

In some cases, bone metastasis and the resulting bone breakdown can lead to an increase in calcium throughout the body. Excess calcium levels can cause nausea, vomiting and constipation.

Bone Metastasis Causes

When a particular location in the body has an increased level of acidity, this is known in medical literature as acidosis, and it is one of the most common causes linked to bone metastasis. The bone cells which break down bone tissue for the necessary regeneration and rebuilding are known as osteoclasts, and when they lower the ph level of the extracellular matrix (ECM) around them, this can be problematic. It results in the nociceptors triggering a pain response in the brain because of the underlying acidosis. The chronic pain which occurs in bone metastasis cases has been linked many times in the research to this type of response. However, bone restructuring can also lead to the condition. It is the uncoupled regulation of the osteoclasts and osteoblasts which leads to the malformation of bones which are then unable to handle the loads which they would otherwise naturally be capable of. This can lead to lingering chronic pain (ie. bone metastasis).

How is Bone Metastasis Treated?

Bone metastasis is a sign of advanced cancer, because it has spread from its original source which can make treatment difficult.

Treatment includes

A combination of medications, chemotherapy and radiation can sometimes shrink tumors in the bone or stop their growth.

Some doctors are using a treatment called immunotherapy to strengthen the immune system and encourage it to kill cancerous cells. This may be used instead of or following more traditional chemotherapy.

In addition, some medications can slow the destruction of bone and give doctors time to eradicate the bone metastasis. Surgery is difficult and may not be possible depending on the location of the tumors in the bone.

Bone Metastasis Prevention

The prevention of bone metastasis primarily includes a workup by a doctor which will include a computed tomography (CT scan) which can often be helpful in detecting metastases before the symptoms begin to cause pain within the patient. This is generally something that can be feasibly done on patients who have already been diagnosed with tumors which could possibly spread to the nearby bones. Also, anyone who has been dealing with the various cancers of the prostate, lungs, thyroid, kidneys, breasts, testicles, or ovaries should also have the CT scans done as a preemptive measure which may save a lot of pain. This is because the regulation of these processes is disrupted by tumor cells and leads to either osteoblastic or osteolytic phenotypes in the patient.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 17, 2017