Diagnosing Bone Cancer
Learn about the tests doctors use to diagnose bone cancer.
To diagnose bone cancer, a doctor will ask about your personal and family history and do a physical examination. To get more information about your health, the doctor may want to do a number of tests, including imaging and blood tests. A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose bone cancer.
Imaging tests X-rays can show the location, size and shape of a bone tumor. If an x-ray suggests that a tumor may be cancerous, more imaging tests may be done, such as:
Bone scan. This makes images of bones on a computer screen or on film. A tiny amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel. It travels through the blood and collects in the bones, where it can be detected by a scanner. Computed tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan is a series of detailed images of areas inside the body. A computer linked to an x-ray machine creates the images. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses a magnet linked to a computer to make a detailed picture of specific areas inside the body. An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves instead of radiation.
Biopsy A biopsy is needed to diagnose cancer. For a biopsy, a doctor will take a sample of tissue from the bone. The tissue is then examined under the microscope for cancer cells.
A bone biopsy can be done in two ways:
Surgical biopsy. A surgeon cuts through the skin to remove part of a lump or suspicious tissue. Needle biopsy. A doctor uses a needle to remove tissue or fluid from the bone. If the needle is very thin, it's called fine-needle aspiration (FNA). A core needle biopsy involves a bigger needle that removes a larger tissue sample.
Blood tests Blood tests can provide information about your health. Tests that may be done include:
Alkaline phosphatase blood test. Alkaline phosphatase is an enzyme that increases in the blood when bone cells are active. It may signal increased bone activity, which can result from the mending of a broken bone or the growth of bone cancer. High levels of this enzyme are normal in growing children, so this test in not a sure indicator of bone cancer. Complete blood count (CBC). A CBC helps to test for anemia and immature blood cells.