diagnose bone cancer, the doctor asks about the patient's personal
and family medical history and does a complete physical exam. In addition
to checking the general signs of health, the doctor usually orders
blood tests and x-rays. X-rays can show the location, size, and shape
of a bone tumor. On x-rays, benign tumors usually look round and smooth,
with distinct edges. Bone cancers generally have odd shapes and irregular
If x-rays show that the tumor is possible cancer, some of the following
special tests may be done. These tests can also show whether the cancer
has begun to spread.
Bone scans outline the size, shape, and location of abnormal areas
in the bone. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into
the bloodstream. This material collects in the bones and is detected
by a special instrument called a scanner.
CT or CAT scan is an x-ray procedure that gives detailed pictures
of cross-sections of the body. The pictures are created by a computer.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) also creates detailed pictures of
cross-sections of the body. MRI uses a very strong magnet linked to
Angiograms are special x-rays of the blood vessels. A dye that shows
up on x-rays is injected into the bloodstream so that the vessels
can be seen in detail. This test is also done to help plan surgery.
A biopsy is the only sure way to tell whether cancer is present. Biopsies
are best done at a hospital where doctors are experienced in the diagnosis
of bone cancers. The doctor removes a sample of tissue from the bone
tumor. A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope. If cancer
is found, the pathologist can tell the type of sarcoma and whether
it is likely to grow slowly or quickly.
If a diagnosis of bone cancer is made, it is important for the doctor
to know exactly where the cancer is located and whether it has spread
from its original location. This information is very important for
planning treatment. The results of exams, tests, x-rays, scans, and
the biopsy are all used in staging the cancer. The stage indicates
whether the disease has spread and how much tissue is affected.