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Radiopharmaceuticals

These drugs contain radioactive elements that target cancer cells. Doctors tend to use this systemic treatment when the metastasis is stimulating new bone growth. This is more common with prostate cancer.

If your cancer has spread to many bones, these drugs may be a better option than standard radiation, which uses a beam to aim radiation at each bone metastasis. However, sometimes doctors combine radiopharmaceuticals and standard radiation.

How it works. The doctor injects a single dose of the drug into a vein. It then travels to the areas of bone with cancer and gives off radiation to kill the cancer. This single dose may be effective against pain for several months. You can receive another treatment later.

Possible side effects. The most common ones include:

  • Infections
  • Bleeding
  • Temporary increase in pain (flare reaction)

 

Immunotherapy

This systemic treatment helps your immune system spot and more effectively kill cancer cells. Some methods of immunotherapy have been used for a while, and some are still experimental.

How it works. Immunotherapy works in one of two main ways:

  • It boosts your body's immune system to fight the cancer.
  • It uses a man-made version of proteins to kill cancer cells.

Examples of immunotherapy for cancer include:

  • Cytokines -- substances secreted by the immune system that have an effect on other cells
  • Monoclonal antibodies -- a class of antibodies made in the lab from a single population of cells
  • Tumor vaccines -- vaccines using a substance that prompts the immune system to respond to a tumor

Possible side effects. Side effects vary, depending upon the type of immunotherapy. They may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or diarrhea
  • Rashes

Radiation Therapy

Radiation is a "local treatment" because it does not affect your entire body. It uses high-energy X-rays or particles to destroy or slow the growth of cancer cells in the bone. It helps most if you have only one or two bone metastases. You may receive it alone or combined with other types of treatment.

How it works. A machine focuses a beam of radiation on the bone metastasis. This treatment, called external beam radiation, lasts only a few minutes. You may receive radiation in one large dose or in smaller amounts over several treatments.

Possible side effects. Early, temporary side effects depend on the location being treated, but may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin changes

How Cancer Spreads to Bones

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