Talking to Your Doctor About Bone Metastases

Questions to ask your doctor

It’s important to have open and honest talks with your doctor. Your doctor and the rest of your cancer care team want to answer all of your questions and help you make decisions that are best for you. You may want to consider asking these questions:

  • How do you know that this is the same cancer I had before and not a new cancer?
  • Which bones has the cancer spread to?
  • Which treatments do you recommend, and why?
  • What’s the goal of treatment? To cure the cancer? Help me live longer? Relieve or prevent some of the symptoms of the cancer?
  • What are my chances of treatment working?
  • What can I expect to feel like?
  • What side effects are likely with the treatment(s) you recommend, and what can I do to help reduce these side effects?
  • Are there any problems I might notice that you need to know about right away?
  • How would treatment affect my daily activities?
  • What treatment options do I have for relieving bone pain or other symptoms?
  • What can I do to help prevent broken bones?
  • What would we do if a bone breaks?
  • Are there clinical trials that may be right for me?
  • How do I get help after hours or on weekends?

Other things to think about

Palliative care

Palliative or supportive treatment is treatment that helps relieve symptoms and make you feel better, but it’s not expected to cure the disease. You’ve probably had palliative (PAL-ee-uh-tiv) care before, such as when you were given pain medicine or anti-nausea drugs during cancer treatment. Palliative care an important part of treating bone metastases.

Bone metastases usually cannot be cured, but palliative radiation may help shrink an area of bone metastasis and keep the bone from breaking. The goal at this time is for you to be as comfortable and well as possible.

    Make sure you are asking for and getting treatment for any symptoms you might have, such as pain or constipation.

Sometimes the palliative care 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.

Talk to your cancer care team about what can be done to make sure you have the best possible quality of life.

Plans you may want to make

It’s important to have an idea of what your prognosis might be – how long you might have. Your doctor can’t say for sure, but should be able to give a general time frame. Sometimes doctors don’t talk about end of life issues and you might have to bring it up. This will help you plan for personal, legal, and/or medical concerns you want to take care of while you can. Making your wishes known to your family and health care team can give you peace of mind. It also can ease stress on your loved ones if the time comes that you aren’t able to tell them what you want.

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.

Again, including you cancer care team and the people you care about in these discussions can help you decide what needs to be done and when to do it.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

National Cancer Institute. Planning the Transition to End-of-Life Care in Advanced Cancer–Patient Version (PDQ®). November 24, 2015. Accessed at on April 28, 2016.

Last Medical Review: May 2, 2016 Last Revised: May 2, 2016

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