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What to Know About Chemotherapy for Primary Bone Cancer

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer. It works by stopping the cancer cells from growing and dividing. It is a systemic treatment. This means that it travels throughout your body in your bloodstream, killing cancer cells along the way.

Who needs chemotherapy

Your doctor will probably suggest chemotherapy if you have osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, or malignant fibrous histiocytoma. These types of bone cancer respond well to chemotherapy. Thirty years ago, before chemotherapy was routinely used, nearly 80 to 90 percent of primary bone cancer patients died of cancer that recurred in distant organs, in spite of removal of the initial cancer.

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Chemotherapy given near the time of surgery and before the cancer shows up elsewhere can often prevent recurrence of the cancer. With current therapies, at least two-thirds of children, adolescents, and adults under age 40 can be cured of nonmetastatic osteosarcoma of the extremities. Your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy if the cancer has spread to other organs (metastasized). The kind of drugs you get depends on the type of tumor you have.

Chemotherapy with other treatment

You may get chemotherapy alone or with surgery. Your doctor may suggest it as your only treatment in the following cases:

  • The tumor cannot be removed with surgery.

  • You have a sarcoma that has spread or returned after treatment.

  • Radiation would be difficult.

Chemotherapy before surgery is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. This can shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove, as well as lower the risk that the cancer will come back.

When a cancer does not need to be shrunk in order for it to be easily removed, your doctor will give you chemotherapy after surgery. This will help lower the risk that the cancer will come back. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.


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