Before confirming that you have bone cancer, your doctor will question you about your health and medical history. In addition, he will do a physical examination to detect signs related to bone cancer: bone pain, swelling around a bone, etc. However, a physical exam is not enough; a number of special tests must be performed to confirm a bone cancer diagnosis:
Blood tests – bone cancer always affect the components of your blood. To detect the effect of the disease in your system, your doctor will take a sample of your blood to check the number and appearance of different types of blood cells. A blood test is also important to assess the functioning of certain organs and reveal anomalies which could indicate the presence of a cancer in your bone.
In addition, the blood test allows your physician to measure the amount of electrolytes, minerals, proteins and enzymes in your blood. This is important because bone cancer always affects the quality and levels of these minerals.
Imaging techniques – certain exams such as X-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography [CT], magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] and bone scan will be performed to allow your doctor to have a clear idea of the health of your bones and surrounding tissues. These examinations are necessary to determine if the cancer has metastasized to other organs such as breast and prostate.
A biopsy is always required to confirm a diagnosis of bone cancer. During the procedure, your health care provider removes cells or a small tissue from the suspected area to examine under a microscope. If cancerous cells are found, a group of doctors such as oncologist, orthopedic surgeon and radiation oncologist will then determine the severity of the disease and determine which treatments should be used.
Needle biopsy – this technique consists of inserting a thin and hollow needle into the bone mass of the affected area to extract cells. The sample will be examined under a microscope to detect presence of cancer cells. This procedure is safer and less traumatic than a surgical biopsy.
Surgical biopsy – unlike needle biopsy, an incision through your skinis always made during a surgical biopsy.The incision can be up to 5 centimeters to allow your surgeon to remove the entire mass or a part of it. Surgical biopsyoften requires general anesthesia, and can lead to minor complications such as bruising and soreness.
After detecting the cancer, your doctor may do additional diagnostic procedures such as removal of some lymph nodes near the tumor to determine the stage of the cancer. Usually, roman numerals or the GTM system are used to describe both the stage of the cancer. This step is important to determine the types of treatment to use.
If you have been diagnosed with bone cancer, it is important to ask you oncologist the stage of the cancer and all organs affected by the tumor.