Bone cancer is diagnosed on the basis of the symptoms that a person shows, which leads a doctor to suspect the presence of bone cancer. Since other conditions such as bone infections can result in the same symptoms, a series of tests need to be conducted to confirm the presence of bone cancer and the correct treatment can then be planned.
To confirm the presence of bone cancer, diagnosis requires physical examination, imaging tests, blood tests and a biopsy where a sample of the tissue cells are examined under a microscope.
The symptomatic signs of bone cancer diagnosis are as follows:
- Pain in the affected bone is the first symptom. It may be more at night or after walking. As the cancer advances, gradually the pain is felt throughout the day. Increasing activity may cause the patient to limp.
- Swelling within a few weeks, a lump can be felt in the position of the cancer.
- Fractures may occur in the place of cancerous growth.
- Other symptoms are weight loss and fatigue; or if the cancer has spread to other organs, for instance the lungs, there could be trouble with breathing.
Bone cancer diagnosis using imaging techniques:
- X Rays: Bone cancer can be detected by a radiologist from an x-ray. The image of the bone is usually ragged; sometimes a hole is present. Doctors can see a tumour around the defect in the bone that may extend into nearby tissues (such as muscle or fat) and infer if a tumour is malignant by its x-ray appearance, although only a biopsy can absolutely determine this.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan is an x-ray technique that takes multiple pictures, as the scanner rotates around the body. A computer then combines these pictures to get a better understanding of the affected area. It can help in cancer staging by revealing metastases to other organs, when multiple scans are taken.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): These scans use radio imaging and strong magnets, where the energy from the radio waves is absorbed and then released in a pattern formed by the type of tissue and by certain diseases, which are captured in a computer. MRI experts can study these images and locate the tumour.
- Radionuclide Bone Scan: Radioactive material is injected into the patient’s body and these are attracted to the diseased bone areas and appear as “hot spots”, which may suggest metastasis, but more tests are needed to confirm this. Conditions such as arthritis give the same spots so further tests are needed.
- Positron Emission Tomography or PET scan: PET scans use glucose that contains a radioactive atom, which can be detected with a special camera. Cancer cells absorb high amounts of this radioactive sugar. PET is useful when looking for cancer throughout the body and when combined with data from CT scans, it can pinpoint the cancer precisely.
- Biopsy: A sample of cancer tissue is extracted and studied under the microscope. It is the only way of knowing whether it is bone cancer or some other bone disease.
In conclusion, this article reviews the many methods of bone cancer diagnosis, which include physical examinations, imaging tests, blood tests and biopsies.