Bone Metastasis

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Understanding Bone Metastasis

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society's Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

Treatment options for people with bone metastases depend on many things:

  • What kind of cancer you have
  • Which bones (and how many) the cancer has spread to
  • Whether any bones have been weakened or broken
  • Which treatments you have already had
  • Your general state of health

Other factors may also be considered, such as features of the cancer cells (for instance, in the case of breast cancer whether they contain estrogen receptors).

Treatments can often shrink or slow the growth of bone metastases and can help with any symptoms they are causing. But they often do not make the metastases go away completely.

There are 2 main types of treatment for bone metastases. Depending on the extent and location of the cancer, one or both of these types of treatment may be used.

Systemic treatments

In many cases, especially if the cancer has spread to many bones, systemic treatments are used because they can reach cancer cells that have spread throughout the body. Systemic therapies include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or other medicines that are taken by mouth or injected into the blood.

Local treatments

Local treatments are directed at a single area. These treatments can be useful if the cancer has spread to only a single bone, or if there is one or a few areas of cancer spread that are more advanced than others and require treatment right away.

Local treatments include external radiation therapy, surgery, and related techniques. These treatments can help relieve pain or other symptoms caused by one or a few bone metastases. Sometimes, local treatments such as surgery are used to stabilize a bone that is in danger of breaking because it has been weakened by cancer. It is much easier to keep a damaged bone from breaking than to try and repair it after it has broken.

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