Bone Metastases - Symptoms and Treatment Options

What are bone metastases?

Bone metastases occur when malignant cancer cells from a primary tumor spread through the body and relocate to the bone.  Once cancer has spread to other organs it is categorized as Stage 4. Bone is the third most common site to which cancer metastasizes after lung and liver. Almost all patients with metastatic (spreading) prostate cancer and 90% of those with advanced breast cancer suffer from bone metastases.
Bone metastases are the most common cause of cancer pain.

How can patients recognize the symptoms of bone metastases?

Pain from bone metastases may not develop immediately; because of this, patients may not recognize the pain in their bones to be a result of cancer in another part of the body. The pain will be greater in load-bearing bones, such as hips or ankles, rather than arms.

Sufferers from bone metastases first notice a pain in the bone, which may be greater at night and may be relieved by movement. However, bone metastases ultimately weaken bone and cause broken bones or fractures. Patients may experience numbness or trouble with urination due to pressure on the spine. Finally, large amounts of calcium in the blood stream can cause nausea, appetite loss and even mental disturbances such as confusion.

What options are available for bone metastases treatment?

There is no cure for bone metastases, but there are many treatment options available. Current treatment options for pain control consist of systemic therapy (analgesics, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and bisphosphonates) and local treatments (radiation,surgery). Unfortunately, many bone metastases treatment options have unwanted side effects, such as stomach problems.

Analgesics, for instance, can cause stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. Although acetaminophen is generally thought of as relatively safe and benign, it can cause liver damage over time, especially when combined with alcohol. A stronger class of analgesics, called opioids, are often used to treat chronic pain, but these can be disruptive to one’s quality of life by causing dizziness, drowsiness, constipation, and nausea.

ExAblate, which uses non-invasive focused ultrasound technology, is a radiation-free treatment that can provide prompt pain relief for individuals suffering from bone tumor pain. ExAblate treats painful bone metastases by destroying the pain-causing nerves in the bone surface surrounding the tumor. ExAblate is both simple and effective: available as an outpatient procedure, patients are in the hospital for a minimal amount of time. Rather than on-going treatment, ExAblate offers pain relief within days after a single treatment. Best of all, as a treatment for pain, ExAblate is effective enough to drastically reduce or completely stop a patient’s need for opioid analgesics.

If you or your loved ones are suffering from pain caused by cancer that has spread to the bones, you should not lose hope. Click here to find an ExAblate treatment center.

We have also compiled a bone metastases glossary so that patients and their families can understand the process.

Find more information in related websites:

American Cancer Society

Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network

Prostate Cancer Foundation

Lung Cancer Alliance

The Society for Fighting Pain 

Lung Cancer Resources from Oncologystat

National Cancer Institute


Links to support groups:

American Chronic Pain Association

Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network

Prostate Cancer Foundation

Lung Cancer Alliance

The Society for Fighting Pain