Cancer-related bone breakdown

What is cancer-related bone breakdown?

Bone is a living organ made up of large numbers of cells. It must receive a constant supply of nutrients if it is to perform its function. Bone is subject to continuous construction and breakdown. Normally, as much new bone is built up as has previously been broken down. Yet some diseases may impair this equilibrium.

Cancer-related bone breakdown is one of the complications that may be caused by bone metastasis. The bone is destroyed. Increased, uncontrolled calcium is released from the bone tissue. The calcium enters the bloodstream and causes the calcium levels in the blood to increase to above normal levels. More calcium flows into the kidneys, either from the bone or from the intestine, than they can eliminate. Many patients with a malignant tumour will develop hypercalcaemia. 

What are the causes and risks for the development of cancer-related bone breakdown?

Pathologically increased bone breakdown occurs with bone metastasis from malignant tumours. Excessive bone breakdown usually causes severe pain in the bones and it is not uncommon for spontaneous fractures to develop.

Without adequate treatment, the raised calcium levels in the blood may result in potentially fatal conditions. Hypercalcaemia syndrome causes symptoms in water metabolism and the gastrointestinal tract, the mind, the central nervous system and the heart.

What role does lifestyle play in cancer-related bone breakdown?

A healthy lifestyle involves regular exercise and sport, rest and relaxation, a healthy, balanced diet and not smoking.

How is cancer-related bone breakdown diagnosed?

As soon as a blood test in a cancer patient reveals raised calcium levels, the appropriate treatment should be initiated. This depends on the level of calcium in the blood.

How is cancer-related bone breakdown treated?

The cause of the hypercalcaemia is the prime factor for deciding on the correct treatment. For patients with mild hypercalcaemia and no symptoms, it is enough to increase the quantity of low-calcium water drunk. This makes it easier for the body to eliminate the calcium with the increased volume of urine.

If the hypercalcaemia is caused by a tumour, the tumour must be treated first. Calcium levels must be reduced up to that point.

Treatment depends on the calcium level and the patient’s symptoms. If the patient is suffering from nausea, vomiting, increased thirst and an urge to urinate, cardiac arrhythmia or even mental problems, treatment must be initiated to reduce the calcium level and prevent it rising again.

In addition to physiological saline infusions or diuretics, medicines are also used in individual cases: glucocorticoids, calcitonin and bisphosphonates.