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Many different treatments can help if your cancer has spread to bone, commonly called bone metastasis. Treatment cannot cure bone metastasis. But it can relieve pain, help prevent complications, and improve your functioning and quality of life.

Doctors use two types of treatments for metastatic cancer in the bones. Systemic treatments can reach cancer cells throughout the body. Local treatments directly target the cancer in the bone.

The treatment you get will depend upon:

  • Where your cancer started, and the kind of primary tumor you have
  • Which bones the cancer has invaded
  • The extent of damage to the bones
  • Which types of treatment you already have had
  • Your overall health

This article provides an overview of treatments commonly used for bone metastases, or bone "mets." If a treatment doesn't ease your pain and other symptoms, be sure to let your doctor know. You may find that other approaches work better for you.

Chemotherapy for Bone Metastasis

Chemotherapy, or "chemo," is a common systemic treatment for bone metastasis. Your doctor will use a type of chemo that is effective against your primary tumor. So if you have metastatic lung cancer, for example, your doctor will use drugs that are effective against lung cancer.

How it works. Anti-cancer drugs target and curb cancer growth. In most cases, you take chemo by mouth or intravenously (by IV). This can often shrink the tumors, which will help reduce your pain and help you feel better.

Possible side effects. Chemo can kill normal cells in addition to cancer cells. So you may have some side effects. The side effects you have will depend on:

  • The type and amount of drugs you take
  • The length of your treatment

Common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Infection
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Weakness or fatigue

Your doctor can help you prevent or manage side effects. Most side effects go away once you stop treatment.

Hormone Therapy for Bone Metastasis

Hormone therapy is another common systemic treatment for cancer that can help with bone mets. Certain hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, promote the growth of some cancers, such as breast and prostate cancers. Stopping these hormones may reduce bone mets from those cancers.

How it works. There are two main ways to stop production of hormones. One is surgery to remove the organs that produce the hormones, such as the ovaries or testicles. More often, doctors prescribe drugs that stop the hormone from being produced or block its effect.

Possible side effects. Side effects depend on the specific treatment. Hot flashes are common. Some hormone therapy, such as aromatase inhibitors, may  speed up bone loss.

Side effects of hormone therapy for prostate cancer may include:

  • Anemia
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of sex drive

How Cancer Spreads to Bones

See what bone metastasis does to your bones, and how to fight back.
View slideshow