If you think you may have bone cancer and are curious about how it’s diagnosed, there are a variety of methods your doctor might use to detect the cancer. Typically, bone cancer symptoms most commonly start with bone pain and swelling. From there, patients turn to their doctors for physical examinations, imaging tests, and biopsies.
If you’re curious to learn more about how bone cancer is diagnosed — read on. We’ll take you through the steps in our guide so you can stay well-informed about your health and alternative treatment for bone cancer. By the end of this article, you will know the different bone cancer test options and examinations that are necessary to diagnose cancer.
Part of answering the question of “how is bone cancer diagnosed” rests in early detection. Unlike some other cancers, such as breast cancer or cervical cancer, there is currently no bone cancer test that will check for bone cancer prior to symptoms showing up. For this reason, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what are the symptoms of bone cancer and what does bone cancer feel like. Let your doctor know right away if you begin to experience any of the following symptoms. 1
The most common sign of bone cancer is pain in the affected bone tissue. Initially, this bone pain might not be constant, and can get worse at night or when the bone is in use. As the cancer spreads, the pain will be constant and will get worse when using the affected bone during times of activity. 2
When talking to your doctor, make sure to be as descriptive as possible about the type of pain you are experiencing. Is the bone pain coming from a specific part of your body or is it generalized pain when you move? As the patient, try to be as informative as possible and also note the duration of how long you’ve been experiencing your symptoms. 2
Swelling is another method of early detection for primary bone cancer/bone sarcoma. It may not occur until a few weeks after the initial symptoms of pain. Depending on the location of the tumor, there might also be a mass or a lump. When the cancer is in the bones of the neck, there may be a lump present in the back of the throat that makes it difficult to swallow or breathe. 2
Bone cancer can weaken the bone where it is present. However, most of the time, the bones do not fracture. If there is a fracture through the bone tumor or next to the bone tumor, individuals usually refer to severe pain (that happens in the bone which has already been sore for a few months). 2
If you are noticing that you are feeling run down more than normal and are also experiencing the listed symptoms above, it’s highly suggested to inform your doctor. While fatigue can be normal, persistent tiredness and weakness is often a sign that a deeper issue is present.
Types of Bone Cancer
There are many different forms of bone cancer, but the most common ones include osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, and Ewing sarcoma. The difference between these bone cancers is the type of cell where the cancer began.
The most common form of bone cancer is osteosarcoma. This cancer develops in the cells that form bones and is commonly found in children and young adults. While most cases are found in the arms and legs, these tumors can also form in the tissue or metastasize to different areas of the body.
Chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of bone cancer. Unlike osteosarcoma, this form of cancer develops cartilage. Symptoms that are often associated with this cancer include a large mass in the affected area, pain, and swelling.
3. Ewing Sarcoma
Commonly found in the hips, rib bones, and other long bones, Ewing Sarcoma is a type of bone cancer that is commonly found in children and young adults. In more severe cases, Ewing Sarcoma can also metastasize to other areas of the body.
Chordoma is a rare bone cancer that occurs in the skull, spine or sacrum. It develops in adults aging from 30 and up, usually most common in men. Symptoms that are often associated with this cancer include headaches, nosebleeds, bowel problems, pain, runny nose, visual problem, muscle weakness.
The Bone Cancer Diagnosis Process
If symptoms suggest that an individual may have bone cancer, the doctor will perform tests for bone cancer. Usually, how to test for bone cancer includes physical exams, imaging tests, and blood tests. In most cases, after these are completed, the only way for doctors to confirm is to perform a biopsy, where they will take a tissue or cell sample and observe it under a microscope. 3
1. Medical History and Physical Exam
If a person shows symptoms that suggest he or she may have a primary bone tumor, the doctor will learn more about the symptoms by taking a complete medical history and physical exam. The physical exam will provide information about potentially malignant tumors and assess what does bone cancer look like in the patient. Keep in mind, there’s currently no definitive answer as to what causes bone cancer, but the physical exam will help to provide information about potential health problems. During a physical exam, a doctor will look for additional problems in the body. Sometimes, bone cancer/bone sarcoma can be a result of another type of cancer that started elsewhere (as opposed to a primary bone cancer). To figure out if you have bone metastasis, your doctor will conduct a series of bone scan tests. 4
2. Imaging Tests
When discussing how to diagnose bone cancer, the next main step after discovering initial symptoms are imaging tests. These bone scan imaging tests, like CT scans and x-rays, are what help doctors tell what is bone cancer vs. what is another bone disease, like osteoporosis or bone infection. 2
Imaging tests create pictures inside the body and are useful for several reasons when it comes to diagnosing and treating bone cancer: 4
- They help determine if there is an area that looks suspicious — and whether or not it might be cancer
- They help see if cancer has started in another part of the body and then spread to the bone
- They help decipher how far the cancer has spread and help analyze the different bone cancer stages
- They help see if current treatment is working
- They help look for signs that cancer may have returned
3. CT scans
CT scans, or computed tomography scans help stage cancer. They can show if bone cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes. These scans can also assist in tumor biopsies.3
Most bone cancers will show up when there is an x-ray taken of the bone. The bone may appear “ragged” instead of solid or may look as if there is a hole in the bone. Doctors can sometimes see if the tumor extends into nearby tissues like muscle or fat. Sometimes, a chest x-ray is done to see if bone cancer may have spread to the lungs. 3
MRIs, also known as magnetic resonance imaging scans, are used to outline the primary bone tumor. They’re also a good tool when looking at the brain and spinal corn. The MRI scan can produce a detailed image of what the bones and soft tissues look like, which helps to decipher the size and spread of the bone cancer. 3
6. Radionuclide Bone Scans
Radionuclide bone scans can tell whether or not cancer has spread to other bones and the extent of the damage that has been caused to the bone.3
7. PET Scan
A PET scan, also called a positron emission tomography scan, uses glucose attached to a radioactive atom along with a specialized camera to look at cancer cells. Because cancer absorbs the radioactive sugar, these PET scans can help to see what bone cancer looks like throughout the body — and can help differentiate a benign tumor (non-cancerous) from malignant tumors (cancerous). 3
During a biopsy, a piece of tissue is taken from the tumor, looked at with a microscope, and tested in the lab. A biopsy is the only way to know whether or not a tumor is cancerous. With a biopsy, doctors use the bone tissue and cell samples to see what the bone cancer looks like and whether or not it started in the bone or spread to the bone due to another type of cancer.
The type of biopsy that’s performed depends on what the tumor looks like and if it’s believed to be a malignant or a benign tumor. Some bone tumors use needle biopsies for diagnosis, while others call for larger samples, from a surgical biopsy, to be diagnosed. 2,3
- Needle Biopsy – There are two different types of needle biopsies: fine needle aspiration and core needle biopsy. In the first, the doctor uses a thin needle and syringe to take out some fluid and cells from the tumor. The second, the core needle biopsy, uses a large needle to remove a small cylinder of bone tissue. 2
- Surgical Bone Biopsy – In an incisional biopsy, the surgeon reaches the tumor by cutting through the skin and will then withdraw a piece of tissue. An excisional biopsy is when the entire tumor is removed. 2
9. Blood Tests
Blood tests are not needed to diagnose osteosarcoma, which is one of the most common types of bone cancer. Instead, blood tests help decipher what stage the cancer might be in after the diagnosis has been made. For example, high levels of chemicals in the blood, like alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase, might mean the cancer is in its later stages. 4
How to Treat Bone Cancer
After diagnosis, a doctor will stage the bone cancer, which helps to answer the question of how fast does bone cancer spread? Staging will be done using a scale of 1-4, with stage one being the earliest stage and stage four being the later stage that has spread the most. After deciding on bone cancer stages in their patients, doctors come up with a plan to treat the cancer.
Natural Treatment Options for Bone Cancer
Now that we’ve covered how bone cancer is diagnosed, you might be wondering — how is bone cancer treated? There are several ways to treat bone cancer, including surgery, and targeted therapy like radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The best course of bone cancer treatment will depend on the type of bone cancer you have and the risk factors involved with treating it. The types of bone cancer include:
- Ewing’s sarcoma
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
Once you know which type of bone cancer you have, you can move forward with bone cancer treatment.
At Immunity Therapy Center, we focus on how to treat bone cancer naturally. Our holistic cancer treatment programs are 100% customized and personal. Whether we’re using IV therapy infusions with nutrients and vitamins or doing Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy to increase oxygen blood flow and reduce tumor growth, our alternative cancer treatments use natural, non-invasive therapies to take advantage of cancer cells’ weaknesses.
With us, you’re never another chart or diagnosis. We know that each cancer is unique and that’s why we take the time every single day to speak with our patients and make sure they’re happy with their treatment plans.
Many people ask how long do you live after being diagnosed with bone cancer —we like to share that the five-year survival rate in children and adults with bone cancer is 70%. If you notice bone cancer symptoms like pain or swelling, please reach out to your doctor or healthcare professional. These may be due to minor infection or injury, though they could also be due to potential bone cancer. The sooner you begin treatment for bone cancer, the less likely it is to spread.
If you’ve been diagnosed with bone cancer, make sure to reach out to the Immunity Therapy Center team today. We’re here and happy to be a part of your journey to wellness.
- cancer.org. Can Bone Cancer Be Found Early? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html
- cancer.org. Tests for Bone Cancer https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html
- cancer.org. Tests for Osteosarcoma https://www.cancer.org/cancer/osteosarcoma/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html
- medicine.net. Bone Cancer https://www.medicinenet.com/bone_cancer_overview/article.htm
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.