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Bone Cancer Complications

There are many serious bone cancer complications.

Bone cancer complications can lead to weaker bones. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Bone cancer complications can lead to weaker bones.

Bone Cancer Complications

Bone cancer complications are patient-specific since they usually form as a direct result of treatments or an individual's reaction to the cancer. Today, cancer patients receive less intensive treatments that are just as effective as cancer treatments used in the past. Many bone cancer complications may be caused by the very treatments designed to rid the body of bone cancer. Luckily, doctors have come a long way in the management of these complications.

Pain is one bone cancer complication that affects the patient's daily life, but will not cause additional harm to the body. Other complications, including hypercalcemia, put the patient's life in danger.

Complications Due to Bone Cancer Treatment

Because some of the most common treatments for bone cancer include surgery or amputation, there is a risk of infection. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, surgeons minimize this risk by using muscle or other soft tissue to cover the reconstruction area after the surgery is complete.

There is also a risk of infection for patients who undergo chemotherapy. Bone marrow, which produces white blood cells, weakens when exposed to chemotherapy. Since white blood cells are the body's way of fighting infection, patients are at an increased risk of infection when their production is hindered. Basic hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, can lessen the risk that a bone cancer patient will get an infection. In addition, medications are available to increase white blood cell count after chemotherapy.

Achieving proper nutrition poses another challenge for patients going through bone cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause a patient's sense of taste to change. This, combined with the nausea and diarrhea that usually accompany chemotherapy treatment, often leads to a loss of appetite. The poor nutrition that results often causes either weight loss or weight gain.

Bed rest may be prescribed for patients undergoing bone cancer treatment, causing muscles to weaken from disuse. Physical therapy and light exercise programs geared toward bedridden patients may help mitigate this complication.

If the Cancer Grows

A benign tumor can grow until it starts pressing on the surrounding tissue, which weakens nearby bones. If left untreated, a malignant tumor can destroy the hard outer layer of the bone, called the cortex, thus weakening the bone and allowing the cancer to spread to nearby tissues. In addition, weakened bones can lead to fractures.

According to the National Cancer Institute, people who have bone cancer are more likely to develop other cancers, such as leukemia. This is especially true for children and adolescents. Regular follow-up care can minimize the chance of this bone cancer complication.

If bone cancer spreads to organs, it can compromise organ function. In the case of bone cancer in the lungs, patients may experience shortness of breath.

Pain

Bone cancer and bone cancer treatments cause pain. This pain is either due to a tumor swelling and pressing on nearby tissues and nerves, or as a result of chemotherapy treatments. Doctors usually can manage this pain using palliative treatments designed to make the patient comfortable.

Patients can work with doctors to develop individualized pain treatments. To do this, patients must be able to describe their symptoms in detail, including how long the pain lasts, how intense it is, and when it occurs. Doctors must be able to respond adequately, providing appropriate amounts of painkilling medication. Otherwise, pain could reach levels that impair the patient's thinking and cause undue stress, which can negatively affect cancer treatment.

In addition, doctors should monitor pain closely to make sure it is not due to other bone cancer complications. Hypercalcemia is an excess of calcium in the bloodstream as a result of a cancerous bone not breaking down and rebuilding properly. As the cancer destroys the bones, bones release calcium into the bloodstream, increasing blood calcium levels. Bisphosphonate drugs can help combat the bone loss that leads to this condition. One sign of this disease is increased bone pain, but there are many symptoms, including nausea, fatigue and vomiting.

Death

The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2008, 2,380 diagnoses of bone and joint cancer would be made and 1,470 deaths would occur as a result -- a more than 61 percent mortality rate. The prognosis for bone cancer patients is dependent upon the stage of the cancer, whether it has spread, the overall health of the patient and the specific type of cancer.

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