Bone Metastasis

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Understanding Bone Metastasis

Your oncologist will want to see you during and after treatment to find out how well the treatments have worked and whether more treatment will be useful. It is important that you report any new symptoms to the doctor right away so that new metastases or side effects can be treated. Prompt diagnosis of any new metastases may mean treatment will work better.

Follow-up exams can also detect short-term and long-term side effects of treatment. Check-ups usually include a medical history and physical exam, and may include imaging tests and lab tests. Doctors have general guidelines for follow up on metastatic cancers, but the exact schedule of exams and tests depends on what kind of cancer you have and your overall medical situation.

Treatment can often help shrink bone metastases and relieve symptoms, but bone metastases are usually not curable. At some point for many people, treatment directed at the cancer may no longer work. But there are other treatments that can relieve your symptoms and make you feel better. The goal at that time is for you to be as comfortable as possible. Make sure you are asking for and getting treatment for any symptoms you might have, such as pain or constipation. This type of treatment is called palliative treatment.

Palliative treatment helps relieve symptoms, but it is not expected to cure the disease. Its main purpose is to improve your quality of life. Sometimes the treatments you get to control your symptoms are the same as the treatments used to treat cancer, such as radiation to relieve bone pain or chemo to shrink a tumor and keep it from blocking the bowel or pressing on nerves. But this is not the same as getting treatment to try to cure the cancer. For more information on palliative treatment, see our document called Advanced Cancer.

At some point, you may do better on hospice care. Most of the time, this is given at home. Your cancer may be causing symptoms or problems that need attention, and hospice focuses on your comfort. You should know that getting hospice care doesn't mean you can't have treatment for the problems caused by your cancer or other health conditions. It just means that the focus of your care is on living life as fully as possible and feeling as well as you can at this difficult stage of your cancer. Please see Hospice Care to learn more about this kind of medical care.

Remember also that maintaining hope is important. Your hope for a cure may not be as bright, but there is still hope for good times with family and friends – times that can be filled with happiness and meaning. In a way, pausing at this time in your cancer treatment gives you the chance to refocus on the most important things in your life. Now is the time to do things you've always wanted to do and to stop doing the things you no longer want to do.

Other things to consider

During and after treatment, you may be able to quicken your recovery and improve your quality of life by taking a more active role. Learn about the pros and cons of each of your treatment options. Ask questions if there is anything you do not understand. Learn about and look out for side effects of treatment. Report these to your cancer care team right away so they can take steps to lessen them or stop them.

Remember that your body is as unique as your personality and your fingerprints. You may have special strengths such as a history of good nutrition and physical activity, a strong family support system, and close friendships. For some people, prayer, meditation, or other practices may help them deal with ups and downs. There are also cancer support groups, professionals in mental health, social work, and pastoral services who may help you cope with your illness.

If you are being treated for cancer, be aware of the battle that is going on in your body. Radiation treatments and chemotherapy add to the fatigue caused by the disease itself. Rest as much as you need to so that you will feel better as time goes on. Ask your cancer care team whether your cancer or its treatments might limit your ability to exercise or do other activities. If not, find out what kind of exercise would be best for you.

Cancer and its treatment are major life challenges that affect you and everyone who cares for you. Before you get to the point where you feel overwhelmed, think about going to a local support group meeting. There are many groups that provide emotional support, friendship, and understanding. Your health care team can suggest other organizations that might help you. If you need individual help or want to see a mental health professional, contact your hospital's social service department or call us (1-800-227-2345) for help in finding counselors or other services.

Last Medical Review: 05/03/2012
Last Revised: 05/03/2012