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What Is Metastatic Bone Cancer?

Metastatic bone cancer occurs when cells from cancer that began in another part of the body travel (or metastasize) to the bone. Metastatic bone cancer is the most common type of bone cancer.

Find out more information on cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

It’s important to know what kind of bone cancer you have so you can better understand the treatment plan your cancer team has developed for you.

What Cancers Lead to Metastatic Bone Cancer?

While many types of cancer can metastasize to the bones, the most common include breast, prostate, kidney, thyroid, and lung. These cancers can spread anywhere in the body, but the bones most often affected include those in the spine, hips, or ribs. It’s also frequently found in the upper legs and arms, skull, and pelvis.

Symptoms of Metastatic Bone Cancer

Metastatic bone cancer has specific symptoms, including:

  • Pain with some activities or when you’re at rest
  • Frequent bone fractures
  • Trouble sleeping

When cancer spreads to the bones, the tumor site might develop a lump and/or swelling. Some symptoms of bone metastases are specific to the tumor location — like tingling or numbness if the tumor is in the spine or limping if it’s in the leg.

The cancer cells can also change your bones, causing holes to form, weakening them, and causing pain. While you may not feel a change, metastatic bone cancer can cause calcium to leave your bones and be released into the bloodstream.

This can cause hypercalcemia, which leads to additional bone metastases symptoms like dehydration, loss of appetite, and possibly coma, according to the American Cancer Society.

Common Treatment Options for Metastatic Bone Cancer

Metastatic bone cancer is usually treated with surgery and radiation. Chemotherapy is sometimes used as well.

Your doctors also may use the same treatments they used for the primary cancer, since the cancer cells are from the original cancer site and aren’t cancerous bone cells.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for metastatic bone cancer, and treatment focuses on relieving troubling symptoms like pain, improving a person’s ability to function, and helping maintain independence and mobility. The goal is to stop the cancer’s progress and shrink the tumor, if possible.

If you or a loved one has metastatic bone cancer or you’d like more information, find a doctor at UPMC.