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MRO–Leaders in radiation therapy for sarcoma and bone cancer

Sarcoma and bone cancer are fairly rare. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 3,500 people of all ages—mostly men and boys in the United States, will be diagnosed with primary bone cancer. But if you’re one of those people, a sarcoma or bone cancer diagnosis is life-changing.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or a secondary cancer to a bone, where a cancer that originated elsewhere spreads (metastasizes) to the bone, you can find leading-edge technology and therapy close to home, at Minneapolis Radiation Oncology. MRO is the Twin Cities’ leading provider of advanced radiation therapy for cancer, with 11 locations across the Twin Cities, Brainerd Lakes Area, and Western Wisconsin. Since 1981, our radiation oncology specialists have treated over 100,000 patients—more than any other clinic in Minnesota.

At Minneapolis Radiation Oncology, we understand the uncertainty that comes with a sarcoma or bone cancer diagnosis. Our MRO radiation oncologists provide a level of expertise that comes from working exclusively with radiation cancer treatments every day. And we’ve established a reputation as trusted allies in the fight against cancer. You can count on the cancer specialists at MRO to be here for you, with care, comfort, and compassion.

Primary cancers of bones account for less than 0.2% of all cancers.

“Radiation oncology allows me to combine my interests in patient care,
neuroscience, and medical technology.”
Somu Suppiah, MD
MRO | Methodist
MRO | North Memorial

What are sarcoma and bone cancer?

Sarcomas and bone cancers start when the cells that make up the bone, muscle, or connective tissues begin to grow out of control. Symptoms may include bone pain, swelling, and fractures.

Primary sarcoma and bone cancer develop when a tumor originates and grows inside tissue. Secondary bone cancer, the most prevalent type, forms when cancer cells spread (metastasize) from another part of the body to nearby bones.

The five-year survival rate for adults and children with bone cancer is 70%. - Adapted from the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) publication, Cancer Facts and Figures 2017.

There are many different types of bone cancer and sarcoma

True (or primary) bone tumors called sarcomas are malignant tumors that start in the bone itself. Sarcomas start in bone, muscle, fibrous tissue, blood vessels, fat tissue, and other soft tissue. The tumors can develop anywhere in the body.

Osteosarcoma (also called osteogenic sarcoma) is the most common primary bone cancer. It starts in the bone cells of the arms, legs, or pelvis. It most often occurs in young people between the ages of 10 and 30.

Chondrosarcoma, the second most common primary bone cancer, starts in cartilage cells. Some chondrosarcomas have distinctive features, which can be seen with a microscope. There are several sub-types of chondrosarcoma:

  • Dedifferentiated chondrosarcomas start out as typical chondrosarcomas, but some parts of the tumor change and begin to grow faster.
  • Clear cell chondrosarcomas grow slowly. They’re rare, and seldom spread to other parts of the body.
  • Mesenchymal chondrosarcomas can grow rapidly but respond to treatment with radiation and chemotherapy.

Ewing tumor is the third most common primary bone cancer, and the second most common in children, teens, and young adults. Most Ewing tumors develop in bones, but they can start in other tissues and organs. The most common sites for this cancer are the pelvis, chest wall, and legs or arms.

Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH), also called pleomorphic undifferentiated sarcoma, most often starts in connective tissues. MFH in bones usually affects the legs or arms.

Fibrosarcoma develops more often in soft tissues than in bones. It usually occurs in elderly and middle-aged adults.

Giant cell tumor is a primary bone tumor that has benign (most common) and malignant forms. Giant cell bone tumors typically affect the legs or arms of young and middle-aged adults.

Chordoma is a primary bone tumor that usually occurs in the base of the skull and bones of the spine. It develops most often in adults older than 30 and is more common in men than women. Chordomas tend to grow slowly and often do not spread to other parts of the body.

Other cancers can be found in the bones, but don’t start in the bone cells and are not treated like primary bone cancer.

The Ewing tumor was first described by Dr. James Ewing in 2921, who discovered its cells looked different from osteosarcoma cells under a microscope. He also found it was more likely to respond to radiation therapy.

Why choose radiation therapy for sarcoma and bone cancer?

The role of radiation therapy in cancer treatment has been changing rapidly, with the introduction of new and advanced technology, especially in tumor tracking, image guidance, and radiation delivery. Radiation treatment is commonly used in several circumstances.

  • After surgery, to kill any remaining tumor cells in the margins.
  • As the primary treatment, if surgery is not a good option and chemotherapy is not effective.
  • To help prevent or relieve symptoms from the tumor.
  • To treat bone cancers that cannot be completely removed with surgery.

“I have the privilege to work with a dedicated group of healthcare professionals helping patients and their families through one of the most difficult challenges of their lives.”
John Kosiak, MD
MRO | Mercy

Radiation technology is proven effective

At MRO, we use radiation, or radiotherapy, to destroy cancer cells. Using state-of-the-art imaging technologies such as MRI, CT, and PET, your MRO care team can pinpoint radiation doses down to the millimeter.

When radiation therapy is a treatment option for you, your MRO care team will work closely with your oncology care team to keep you and your family fully informed about your disease and treatment options.

With sarcoma and bone cancer, there are several different treatment techniques used, but each directs precise doses of radiation at the cancer cells, which are more susceptible to radiation than healthy cells. Like an x-ray, radiation therapy is painless. There’s no fear of becoming radioactive during or after treatment.

Radiation treatment options for sarcoma and bone cancer

At MRO, we treat bone cancers and sarcomas with some of the most advanced radiation therapy available, and our radiation oncologists are able to target difficult-to-reach tumors in the body.

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) delivers high doses of radiation to cancer cells from outside the body, using a variety of machine-based technologies. In recent years, newer EBRT techniques have been shown to help doctors treat cancer more accurately while lowering the radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissues.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is an advanced form of external beam radiation therapy. With this technique, a computer matches the radiation beams to the shape of the tumor and can adjust the intensity of the beams. The radiation is delivered to the tumor from many directions to reduce the amount of radiation that goes through any one area of normal tissue. This makes it possible to reduce radiation damage to normal tissues while increasing the radiation dose to the cancer.

At MRO, we also use Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) for metastatic spine tumors. This is a specialized form of external radiation treatment that precisely directs a radiation dose at a small target. The number of individual treatments required is less than in typical EBRT.

“Fighting cancer is tough, and we strive to be the partner who understands and supports you in this journey. We work with you and your loved ones to ensure you understand your treatment and any options that will provide the best possible outcome.”
D. Ross Dickson, MD
MRO | Mercy

Your treatment is a team effort

When you talk to your doctor about treatment options, ask if MRO is the right choice for you and get a referral. We’ll start with a consultation appointment lasting one or two hours. During that time, you’ll meet with a radiation oncologist to make sure radiation is the right choice for you.

Once the radiation oncologist has examined you, he or she will discuss treatment options and the pros and cons of radiation treatment. A radiation therapy nurse will also be there to help explain treatment, discuss how often radiation therapy is given for sarcoma and bone cancer, and provide information on how to take care of yourself during treatment.

Since radiation therapy for sarcoma and bone cancer requires the utmost precision, you’ll also go through a simulation at the MRO Therapy Center. Using image mapping as a guide, your care team will position you as you would be for treatment and take measurements to build a targeted treatment plan and pinpoint the radiation for the best possible outcome.

For questions to ask your provider see our FAQ page.

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We make treatment as easy as possible, so you can get back to living your life

Side effects of radiation therapy depend on what area of the body is being treated and how much radiation is used. If you are experiencing side effects or have questions about any symptoms, contact your MRO care team.

Common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin irritation in the area being treated, ranging from redness and hair loss to blistering and peeling
  • Low blood counts
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, if radiation is given to the abdominal area

How to care for yourself during treatment

Living with sarcoma and bone cancer is all about finding the quality of life that suits you best. At MRO, we understand that there’s more to recovery than medical treatment. And while radiation therapy itself may be painless, the treatment impacts your body in ways that you can’t always see. In order to keep your body strong, we encourage you to be active in caring for yourself. Here’s a list of things you can do to get the most out of life during your treatment:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat a healthy diet.

  • Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard, and rest when you are tired. You will probably be sleeping more than normal, and that’s okay.

  • Be kind to the skin near your treatment area. Wash the area with mild soap and water, and do not put hot or cold packs on the skin. Contact your MRO care team before using lotions or ointments.

  • Find a support group or seek out help to manage the stress that comes with cancer treatment and a cancer diagnosis.

  • Make sure to tell your doctor about any medications or supplements you take to ensure they are safe to use during treatment.

  • Follow your doctor’s orders and contact your MRO care team with any questions.

Life after treatment

Life after bone cancer means returning to some familiar things and also making some new choices. For some people, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. For other people, the cancer might never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatment with chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or other treatments to try and help keep the cancer in check.

Follow-up Care

After you’ve completed treatment, you’ll have follow-up visits with your MRO radiation oncologist and the doctor who referred you to MRO, especially in the first few months after treatment, to make sure there is no progression or recurrence. Follow-up care for sarcoma and bone cancer varies from patient to patient.

Your physician may also recommend home care, occupational or vocational therapy, pain relief, physical therapy, or participation in support groups. During this time, it’s important to report any new symptoms to your doctor right away, so the cause can be found and treated.

For more information, visit our resources page.