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When Colon Cancer Spreads to Your Bones

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on August 24, 2020

It’s less common to have colon cancer spread to the bones, but it does happen to people who have metastatic colon cancer. When colon cancer spreads to the bones, it usually happens in your:

  • Spine
  • Hip
  • Long bones like the arms or legs

More people have colon cancer spread to their bones than in years past. This may be because colon cancer treatments have improved, which allows people to live longer, giving the cancer more time to go there.

Symptoms

When cancer spreads to your bones, you may have:

  • Bone pain
  • Bone weakness that can lead to breaks
  • High levels of calcium in your blood
  • Compression of the spine

If you feel pain in your bone, even if it isn’t constant, tell your doctor. Early treatments may keep the bone from breaking.

Metastatic cancer weakens bones. That makes it easier for them to break when you fall or get hurt. It’s also possible for weak bones to break when you’re going about your day, without any trauma. The pain from a break may be so bad, it can be hard for you to move.

If colon cancer spreads to your spine, it can compress your spinal cord. This can damage nerves there and bring numbness or problems controlling your bladder or bowels. If it isn’t treated, you could become paralyzed.

Go to the emergency room if you:

  • Feel back pain or numbness
  • Suddenly have trouble walking
  • Lose control of your bladder or bowels

When cancer spreads to your bones, calcium may leave your bones and go into your bloodstream. You may:

  • Feel tired
  • Be constipated
  • Have nausea
  • Be very thirsty
  • Lose your appetite
  • Pee more often

Without treatment, you may fall into a coma.

Diagnosis

When colon cancer advances to other areas of your body, your doctor can do tests to see if it has reached your bones. It’s possible you’ll have blood tests to check your calcium levels.

To view pictures of your bones, you may get some of these:

  • X-ray
  • Bone scan
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI

Outlook

Once colon cancer reaches your bones, you can’t be cured of the cancer. But with treatments, it may be possible to extend your life, ease pain and other symptoms, and improve your quality of life. Having cancer spread to your bones is not a reason to give up on all treatment, because there are ways to manage some of the problems that come up.

Treatment

Your doctor has some options when cancer reaches your bones.

Your medical team may try to make your bones stronger before they break or treat them once they’ve broken. They may:

  • Prescribe drugs that can strengthen your bones and ease bone pain
  • Use radiation therapy to ease bone pain and lower the chances that the bone will break.
  • Do surgery to put a metal rod or other device into the weak area of a bone to give it extra support
  • Inject bone cement into a weakened bone
  • Offer chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation, or targeted treatments
  • Try to shrink a tumor within your bone by heating or freezing it
  • Suggest that you join a clinical trial, where researchers test the newest treatment advances

Pain medicine may improve your quality of life and make it easier for you to move.

If the calcium levels in your blood are very high, drugs can lower them. Symptoms (like nausea or feeling very thirsty) may fade when they get back to normal.

How to Care for Your Bones

You may need to change the way that you move.

  • Your doctor may ask you to use crutches or a walker to keep weight off of a weak bone.
  • You may need to wear a back brace to protect your spine.
  • If your doctor offers physical therapy, you may learn how to become more active, even though your bones are weak from the cancer.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Treatment for metastatic colon cancer.”

Annals of Oncology: “Natural history of bone metastasis in colorectal cancer: final results of a large Italian bone metastases study.”

Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology: “Metastatic colorectal cancer presenting with bone marrow metastasis: a case series and review of literature.”

American Cancer Society: “Finding bone metastases,” “Treating bone metastases,” “Managing symptoms of bone metastases,” “Immunotherapy for colorectal cancer.”

Mayo Clinic: “Bone metastasis.”

National Cancer Institute: “Colon cancer treatment (PDQ) – patient version, treatment options for colon cancer.”

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