When non-small-cell lung cancer spreads, bones are one of the most common places for it to go. It can be painful when this happens, but there are lot of treatments that bring relief and curb the growth of your disease.
Why It Hurts
Cancer cells release substances that damage your bones, making them weak and more likely to break. Weak or broken bones can be painful. Damaged bones can also hurt if they collapse and press on nerves.
Tests You May Get
If you feel pain in your bones, see the doctor who treats your cancer. He'll look for signs of cancer there with tests like these:
Bone scan. Your doctor injects a small amount of a radioactive substance called a tracer into a vein. Then, he takes pictures of your bones. The tracer highlights areas of cancer on the images.
CT, or computed tomography. It's a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of your bones.
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to view structures in your body, such as your bones.
X-ray. It uses low doses of radiation to make pictures of your insides, including bones.
Some of the same methods your doctor uses to treat cancer in your lungs can shrink tumors and relieve pain from cancer that has spread to your bones.
This treatment shrinks tumors, which can lessen damage to your bones.
Some side effects you might get from chemotherapy are:
- Hair loss
- Bruising or bleeding more than usual
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in appetite
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Mouth sores
Radiation therapy. It uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells or stop tumors from growing. It can strengthen your bones, make them less likely to break, and ease bone pain.
You'll get radiation from a machine outside your body. You could get some side effects, such as:
- Irritation of the skin in the treated area
- Fever and chills
- Pain when you swallow (if you get radiation to the chest)
Treatments That Slow Breakdown of Your Bone
Bisphosphonates. These are drugs that slow bone loss. They work by stopping cells called osteoclasts from breaking down bone.
You may have heard that bisphosphonates treat the bone-thinning disease called osteoporosis. In cancer that has spread to the bones, these drugs can lessen bone loss, prevent fractures, and relieve pain.
You get bisphosphonates through an IV about once every 3 to 4 weeks.
Watch out for side effects that may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Appetite loss
Very rarely, bisphosphonates can cause a serious condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). ONJ cuts off the blood supply to part of the jawbone, which can cause infections there as well as mouth sores and tooth loss. Your doctor might recommend that you see a dentist for a checkup before you start this medicine.
Denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva). Denosumab is a type of drug called a monoclonal antibody. It blocks a substance called RANKL, which stops osteoclasts from breaking down bone.
You get denosumab as an injection under the skin every 4 weeks. It can help strengthen your bones and prevent fractures.
You might get side effects like these:
This drug can also cause ONJ in rare cases. You may need to see a dentist before you start taking it.
These medicines won't stop bone damage, but they can help you feel better. Pain relievers that treat cancer bone pain include:
You can also get pain relief if you put heat or cold on the places that hurt.
Doctors can remove some or all of the tumor if it's pressing on your bone. They can also put in rods, screws, wires, or pins to keep the bone stable and prevent it from breaking.