Certain types of bone cancer grow calciferous tumors, while other types of bone cancer break down the bone and make it less dense. While a traditional x-ray and cancer screening tests are preferred methods for finding bone cancer, a DXA, or DEXA scan, can alert you to problems with your bones that you were not aware of and may or may not be cancerous. Here is how bone scans and other types of tests can help you and your doctor screen for bone cancer.
Why You Should Start with a DEXA Scan
Usually, your medical insurance or Medicare will cover the costs of a bone scan, especially if you are approaching retirement age when there is an increased chance of bone loss. Insurance will not cover cancer screenings unless your doctor has found something in a bone scan that is out of the ordinary and not related to osteoporosis. Therefore, you can request and receive a bone scan from your doctor as the first step towards finding any sign of bone cancer.
Following up with Other Tests after Unusual Bone Scan Results
As for the findings of a bone scan, if there are any abnormalities with the test results, your doctor will first test you for a lack of bone-building minerals and a decrease of the biological transmitters in the body responsible for signaling to the body that it needs to produce osteocytes. If there are deficiencies in both these areas, it is very likely that you have osteoporosis, but it does not rule out other diseases of the bone. Since DEXA scans are also used to diagnose and monitor lupus, rickets, and other diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system, your doctor may request additional tests (or you can request the tests through your doctor).
Taking and Reading Traditional X-rays
While the chemical tests on your blood work are processing, your doctor will probably order a traditional x-ray to check for bone deformities. Because bone cancers create a pitted look in some bones and/or add bone growths to the ends of other bones, the traditional x-ray will spot areas of the body where these bony tumors and lack of solid bone exist. Finding the pitted bones or bony growths only confirms what your blood work reveals-you do or do not have cancer. However, if your blood work shows an elevation in white blood cells (which is a common indicator of cancer and the body's attempts to fight it), then the x-ray helps your doctor pinpoint where in your body the bone cancer may be lurking.
The Final Test
To confirm that you do indeed have bone cancer, your doctor may perform one final test prior to prescribing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Taking a bone sample or a marrow sample during an outpatient procedure are the most common tests when making a final and confirmed diagnosis of bone cancer. The marrow sample is often taken from a long bone close to the assumed cancerous site, while a bone sample may be taken from what appears to be a bony tumor. From the DEXA scan to this final test is about a month or two, depending on how quickly your doctor can schedule you for the tests.