Ways & How

how to diagnose bone cancer

how to diagnose bone cancer

Bone cancer affects children, teenagers, and adults. As explained in cancer.about.com, this disease is categorized into two: primary (the cancer cells originated in the patient’s bone) or secondary (the cancer cells metastasized from one area to the bone). Irrespective of the classification, it is still a serious disease. The need to know how to diagnose bone cancer rests in the fact that not all bone tumors are malignant. There are benign bone tumors, which mean they are not cancerous. In some cases, bone pain is linked to a benign condition such as an injury. As emphasized in wisegeek.com, the three types of primary bone cancer are: chondrosarcoma which normally affects the hip joint, shoulder, and pelvis cartilage; Ewing’s sarcoma, which usually occurs in the nerve tissues of the backbone, arms, pelvis, and legs; and osteosarcoma, which frequently occurs in the knee and upper arm. On one hand, chondrosarcoma is likely to occur in older people. Ewing’s sarcoma and osteosarcoma, on the other hand, are likely to occur in ages ranging from 10 to 25 years.



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The hereditary conditions believed by researchers that may increase the development of bone cancer include: hereditary retinoblastoma, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, and multiple exostoses. Recurring pain in the arms and legs, bone fractures, and inflammation or tenderness of the joints are the usual symptoms experienced by persons afflicted with bone cancer. Occasionally, patients may also experience high fevers, anemia, fatigue, and sudden weight loss. Let us discuss important medical procedures applicable in diagnosing bone cancer:

  1. Bone X-rays. These tests will indicate whether the cancer is primary or secondary. The appearance of the bone helps the doctor in diagnosing what type of cancer it is. The test may show a “ragged” appearance or like a “hole” in the bone. Sometimes, the bone defects extend to nearby tissues. The X-ray results can initially determine the condition of the tumor, although only a biopsy test can certainly identify whether the tumor is benign or malignant.

  2. Radionuclide bone scans. According to cancer.org, this procedure determines whether or not the tumor has metastasized to other bones. In determining the extent of damage that the cancer has caused, a bone scan is more accurate than ordinary X-rays.

    An amount of a radioactive substance called technetium complexes of diphosphonate is injected into the patient’s arm or hand. The abnormal bone areas are likely to attract more radioactivity than the normal portions. The affected bones will serve as “hot spots” during the test. The areas that look dense, gray, or black may indicate several things such as metastatic cancer, arthritis, infection, or other bone disorders.

  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans. Also called an MRI scan, this test can identify the extent of primary bone cancer. Since the scanner is a very intensive magnet, the doctor must know if the patient has any metal implants such as surgical clips, bone pins, or a pacemaker. If there is any metal in the body, the MRI scan would not be possible.

    In some cases, the patient is injected into the vein of the arm with a dye called contrast medium. This helps the scanned images to become clear. For the test, magnetism is used to generate a clear picture of the patient’s skeleton. For 30 minutes, the patient should be very still while on a bed placed inside a tube (long cylinder). The procedure is painless, although earplugs are provided because of the noise generated. While the scan is going on, the patient can hear and speak to the scanner’s operator.

  4. Computed tomography scan. Also called a CT scan, this test is another form of X-ray procedure responsible in giving cross-sectional and detailed images of the body. The scanner takes a number of pictures. The test can determine the stage of cancer and if the tumor has spread to the liver, lungs, and other vital organs. For the test, while the patient lies on a table, the body part to be examined is placed inside the scanner. The patient may find it uncomfortable holding still for minutes in certain positions, but generally, the entire procedure is painless.

  5. Needle biopsy. The two categories of this test are a fine needle biopsy and a core needle biopsy. Both types require the administration of local anesthesia to numb the affected area. On one hand, in the fine needle biopsy, a thin needle is injected to withdraw an amount of fluid from the suspected tumor mass. If the mass is too deep, the doctor can use what’s called a CT-guided needle biopsy process. As the name suggests, the doctor can view in the CT scan where the needle should go.

    On the other hand, in a core needle biopsy, a larger needle is used in removing a small, cylindrical portion of tissue (about one-half inch long and one-sixteenth in diameter) from the tumor mass. Many doctors find this test more accurate than the fine needle biopsy.

  6. Surgical biopsy. Before the procedure starts, the patient is administered with anesthesia (local or general) depending on the tumor’s size, how deep it is to reach, and the patient’s age. After that, the doctor uses a surgical knife to cut through the skin and reach the mass. If only a sample of tissue is removed, it is called an incisional biopsy. If the entire mass is removed, it is called an excisional biopsy.

When the patient knows how to diagnose bone cancer medically, dealing with the disease will not be difficult. In fact, the patient will be more than willing to undergo any or some of the procedures enumerated above. Unfortunately, symptoms may not manifest at an early stage until the bone cancer has reached an advanced stage.

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