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Bone Cancer vs. Bone Tumor

February 15, 2019

When diagnosed with a bone tumor or bone cancer, some patients may not understand all of their options when determining which medical professional they should contact first. “The terms bone cancer and bone tumors are very general terms,” says James C. Wittig, MD, chairman of Orthopedic Surgery, Morristown Medical Center and medical director of Orthopedics, Orthopedic Oncology and Sarcoma Surgery, Atlantic Health System. “Bone tumor refers to an abnormal growth in the bone. There are many different types of bone tumors, both benign and cancerous. A bone cancer is a malignant type of bone tumor.”

When a bone cancer arises directly from the bone, it is called a primary bone cancer or a sarcoma. When a different type of cancer spreads from another site, such as a breast cancer, to the bone, it is considered a secondary bone cancer, also called a metastatic bone cancer.

Tailored Cancer Treatments

Primary sarcomas are treated with specific chemotherapy regimens and often surgeries designed to save the limb (limb-sparing). Secondary bone cancers are treated according to where the cancer started. For instance, a breast cancer that spread to the bone would be treated with chemotherapy specific for breast cancers.

Common examples of cancers that can spread to the bone include breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer and gastrointestinal cancer. Both sarcomas and metastatic bone cancers can be debilitating if left untreated, or greatly impact mobility and lifestyle.

“It is important to differentiate between the various types of cancers that affect the bone because each has its own type of treatment and prognosis,” Wittig says.

Choosing the Right Specialist

When any tumor involving the bones is diagnosed, patients have a number of options of which physician to contact first. An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer and provides medical treatments for a person diagnosed with cancer. The field of oncology has three major areas: medical, surgical and radiation.
An orthopedist is trained in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of disorders, injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal (bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves and tendons) system of the body.

Orthopedic oncologists are highly trained to treat cancers and other tumorous conditions of the musculoskeletal system. They are skilled in addressing benign or noncancerous tumors, bone and soft tissue sarcomas (primary musculoskeletal cancers), and pathologic fractures, which may result as a side effect from various cancers, Paget’s disease or osteoporosis.

Atlantic Orthopedic Oncology and Sarcoma Program

Atlantic Health System recently launched its orthopedic oncology program for patients diagnosed with a bone tumor or soft tissue tumor. Led by Dr. Wittig, an internationally recognized orthopedic oncologist, Atlantic Health System’s new orthopedic oncology program treats both adults and children and is one of only a few programs in the region to offer limb-sparing surgery for sarcomas.

“Patients who believe they have bone cancer or a bone tumor should reach out to an orthopedic oncologist, who can clinically and critically assess the patient with a multispecialist team, ‘grade’ the tumor, and develop an understanding of how the tumor is impacting the patient’s musculoskeletal system and life,” Wittig says. “Almost all patients with a primary sarcoma can be successfully treated with a limb-sparing surgery instead of an amputation.”

The orthopedic oncology team develops an individualized, patient-specific approach taking diagnostic, clinical and lifestyle factors into consideration, and – in partnership with the patient and their support system – determine a tailored treatment plan.

In addition to medical needs, Atlantic Health System patients also benefit from cryosurgery, access to clinical trials that offer the latest advancements in technology and treatments; lymphedema management; nutrition and dietary education; pain management; art therapy; integrative therapy, including reiki healing and energy work; and patient and caregiver support groups.

Atlantic Orthopedic Oncology and Sarcoma and Dr. Wittig can be reached at 833-292-2663.