Musculoskeletal oncology is a branch of orthopedic surgery that specializes in diagnosing and treating tumors that occur in the body’s bone or connective soft tissues, including muscle, fat, fibrous tissue, nerve and blood vessels. When these tumors are malignant or cancerous, they are referred to as “sarcomas.” Although these types of tumors are relatively rare, they can metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors and sarcomas can arise from skeletal muscle, fibrous tissue, fat, tendon, nerve or blood vessels.
There are many types of tumors that can occur in the bones that are benign, or not cancerous, and not life-threatening. Sometimes, certain diseases of bone can also mimic bone tumors. In most cases, these benign tumors are asymptomatic and do not even cause any pain or problems. However, some benign tumors can cause damage by weakening or destroying bone or changing into bone cancer. Benign tumors that occur in the soft tissue of the extremities rarely spread and may or may not need to be surgically removed.
A bone cancer, or sarcoma, will often cause aching pain or a noticeable lump. Soft-tissue sarcomas can be painless. Sarcomas are usually treated with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. When sarcomas spread, it is most commonly to the lungs or the lymph nodes.
If a tumor is suspected to be cancerous, there are several methods that can be used to make a diagnosis. X-rays can provide some information. A computed tomography scan, or CT scan, can help determine whether any sarcoma has spread to the lungs or other organs. We can also use CT to guide a needle for a biopsy of a mass that is suspected to have spread. Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, can reveal the extent of a bone or soft tissue tumor. A PET/CT scan combines nuclear medicine images with CT images to show anatomical structures and cancerous areas in one image, allowing us to find cancer that has spread far from the original tumor site.
If you have been experiencing bone pain, easily broken bones, unexplained swelling or tenderness in an area, excessive fatigue, or unintended weight loss, we strongly recommend being checked by a qualified physician. Although cancer of the bones and soft tissues surrounding the bones is rare, it can be deadly. The best chance of a successful outcome is to catch it early and begin any necessary treatment as soon as possible.
This column is sponsored by Central Florida Orthopaedic Surgery Associates, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFHN or its advertisers.
Bio: Dr. Timothy Evans obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at the University of Central Florida and his Master of Science degree in Physiology from Georgetown University. He went on to attend medical school at Creighton University in Nebraska. He completed his orthopaedic surgery residency at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.