Questions for Your Doctor About Bone Metastasis

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When you have cancer in one part of your body, cancerous cells may break away and travel through the bloodstream or lymph vessels to other areas. At times, they may settle in your bones and start growing there. The tumors that result are called bone metastases. This condition—also known as secondary bone cancer—is most common with cancers that started in the breast, prostate, lung, thyroid, or kidney.

Secondary bone cancer can give rise to a whole new set of problems, including bone pain and bones that are weak and easily broken. The problems can be managed to help you feel better and stay as active as possible. But they add an extra layer of complexity to your treatment. So it's more important than ever to be well informed about what to expect.

Start a Conversation

Your oncologist and the rest of your health care team are the best sources of information that's personalized to your needs. Open, honest communication between you and your team is crucial. It lets you tap into their knowledge so you can make informed choices about your care.

Of course, cancer is a stressful thing to talk about. Yet it's worth the effort to make sure your needs are met. So don't hesitate to speak up if you have questions or concerns. As time goes on and you get to know your health care team members better, you may find that you feel more at ease discussing your cancer with them.

Don't Hesitate to Ask

Here are some questions you may want to ask your oncologist about bone metastasis:

  • Will I need any further testing—such as an X-ray, computed tomography scan, or other imaging test; lab tests; or a biopsy—to confirm the diagnosis?

  • What are my treatment options for relieving bone pain?

  • How can I reduce my risk of breaking a weakened bone?

  • What other problems might arise (for example, high calcium levels in my blood or spinal cord compression)? What symptoms should I watch for?

  • What are the goals of my treatment (for example, helping me live longer or preventing or relieving symptoms)? Is it intended to cure my cancer?

  • What are the possible side effects of my treatment? How can I reduce these effects?

  • How should I expect to feel while undergoing treatment?

  • How can physical therapy and/or other supportive therapies (such as relaxation techniques or counseling) improve my quality of life?

  • Are there any clinical trials that I might qualify for?

  • Where can I find additional information and support?

Key Takeaways

  • When cancer spreads to the bones, it's called bone metastasis. This condition is also known as secondary bone cancer.

  • Secondary bone cancer can complicate your treatment. Its symptoms include bone pain and a weakening of the bones.

  • When talking with your oncologist and the rest of your health care team, be open and honest. Don't hesitate to speak up if you have questions or concerns. 


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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 12, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Metastatic Bone Disease, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2011 (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00093)
  2. Physical Therapy and Other Rehabilitation Therapies for Patients with Cancer and Bone Involvement, Bone and Cancer Foundation, 2010 (http://www.boneandcancerfoundation.org/pdfs/RehabPublicationFinal-2010.pdf) 
  3. Talking with Your Doctor, American Cancer Society, February 1, 2010 (http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002916-pdf.pdf) 
  4. Bone Metastasis, American Cancer Society, March 30, 2012 (http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003087-pdf.pdf)

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