This week is Bone Cancer Awareness Week so I just wanted to do a quick blog post to highlight the facts about bone cancer. Like most of my blog posts, this is dedicated to my lovely cousin Georgie who suffered from the most common type of bone cancer, Osteosarcoma.
The human body is made up of over two hundred bones, all of which support and protect the body whilst also allowing us to move. A bone is a frame made up of supporting tissue (connective tissue) and minerals (calcium for example). This frame gives the bone strength. Throughout the frame are bone cells.
There are three main types of bone cells:
Osteoblasts – build up the bone frame
Osteoclasts – break down bone
Osteocytes – osteoclasts that have become part of the bone frame
These cells work together to keep bones healthy and to maintain their shape.
Primary Bone Cancer - When cancer develops in the bone cells first
Secondary Bone Cancer – When cancer has spread to the bone from other parts of the body
Osteosarcoma – This is the most common type of bone cancer. It is the type Georgie suffered from. It is commonly diagnosed in children or teenagers but it can develop at any age. Osteosarcoma’s are usually found around the knee or upper arm.
Georgie’s osteosarcoma developed in his jaw (the mandible) which is unusual.
Ewing’s Sarcoma – This type of bone cancer if mostly seen in teenagers, usually starting in their pelvis or leg bones but it can also develop in the soft tissues.
Chondrosarcoma – This is mostly found in middle aged people and is usually a slow growing form of bone cancer. It can start developing in the pelvis, thigh, upper arm, shoulder blade or ribs
Risks and Causes of Bone Cancer:
Primary bone cancer is actually very rare. It is mostly found in teenagers and young adults which is very unusual for cancer. There are around six hundred cases of primary bone cancer every year in the UK. We don’t actually know exactly what causes bone cancer but there are several known risk factors for this type of cancer: exposure to radiation, previous treatment involving certain chemo drugs, certain bone diseases and some rare inherited genetic conditions (as was the case with Georgie) If you are known to be at high risk for bone cancer, you will be given regular x-rays to screen for the disease.
Symptoms of Bone Cancer:
The symptoms are not exact and will depend on the size of the cancer and its position in your body. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, and problems with your movement or tenderness in a certain body part. Other symptoms can include tiredness, fever and sweats, weight loss and sometimes a break or fracture in the weakened bone.
Georgie’s bone cancer was in his jaw. The first symptom was a tingling feeling on the right side of his upper lip. This soon developed into numbness.
Treating Bone Cancer:
As with all cancers the stage and the grading of the cancer is hugely important and will help determine which course of treatment is best for you.
Chemotherapy – you may have chemo to shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove or you may have it after surgery to try and get any cells that may have been left behind.
Radiotherapy – Radiotherapy is used in the same way as chemo – especially for some types of Sarcoma
Surgery – Limb Salvage Surgery involves removing the part of the bone with the tumour and replacing it with a bone graft or prosthesis. Limb Amputation may be necessary the cancer has spread into the tissues or if your specialist feels you are at high risk of having the cancer come back.
As with most osteosarcomas, Georgie has limb salvage surgery and his jaw was replaced with a graft using bone from his hip. He also had lots of chemo. Unfortunately the cancer was not completely taken away and he had yet another replacement a few months later. Some cancer cells were left behind and were able to spread to other parts of his body quite quickly. He managed to cope extremely well with the surgeries and was always out of intensive care and able to walk and talk much quicker than anyone expected. He was incredibly brave and fought his cancer really hard; unfortunately it was just too aggressive for him to cope with in the end.
If you are worried about bone cancer or think you might be at risk of developing it, please visit the CRUK website www.cancerresearchuk.org or contact your GP and discuss your concerns with them.
For more information on bone cancer and Georgie’s story, please visit www.anticancer.org.uk