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Radiation Therapy for Bone Metastasis

Radiation is a "local therapy" because it does not affect your entire body. Radiation uses high-energy X-rays or particles to destroy or slow the growth of cancer cells in the bone. This therapy 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. From a machine outside the body, a beam of radiation focuses on the bone metastasis. This treatment, called external beam radiation, lasts only a few minutes. You may receive radiation therapy in one large dose or in smaller amounts over several treatments.

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

  • Fatigue
  • Skin changes

Surgery for Bone Metastasis

Surgery can often help relieve bone metastasis symptoms.

How it works: If a bone is broken, surgery may help relieve pain quickly. Surgery can also help stabilize a weak bone to keep it from breaking. The surgeon may insert:

  • Screws
  • Rods
  • Pins
  • Plates
  • Cages

Possible side effects. These include the usual risks of any surgery, such as infection.

If surgery is not an option, your doctor may use a cast or splint or inject bone cement (vertebroplasty) to help you move better and relieve pain.

Ablation for Bone Metastasis

With this local therapy, a needle or probe is put into the tumor to destroy it. Though used more often for other types of metastasis, ablation can help if you have a problem with one or two bone tumors.

How it works. Some methods of ablation use chemicals or alcohol to kill the tumor. Two common methods include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA). A needle delivers an electric current to heat the tumor.
  • Cryablation. A probe is used to freeze the tumor.

Afterward, the doctor may fill the space created by ablation with bone cement to help stabilize the bone.

Possible side effects. This procedure is generally safe, but may cause some temporary soreness, swelling, and bruising.

Nerve End Ablation for Bone Metastasis

This noninvasive procedure uses ultrasound energy and MRI technology to provide pain relief by destroying nerve endings in the area of the tumor. Because there is no incision and no probe inserted, the procedure is typically done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic rather than general anesthesia. While complications are possible, they are rare.

How it works. A specialist uses MRI scanning to target the specific area to be treated with ultrasound. Then heat that's generated when ultrasound penetrates the targeted tissue destroys nerve endings in the bone around the tumor. The destruction of nerve endings results in significant pain relief.

Possible side effects. Possible complications from the MRI guided ultrasound procedure include skin burns and damage to heat sensitive organs that are next to the treated area.

How Cancer Spreads to Bones

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