Palliation – Interventional Radiologists Can Help Reduce Pain and Improve Quality of Life

Bones are the third most common location where cancer cells spread and metastasize. Bone metastases occur when cancer cells gain access to the blood stream, reach the bone marrow, begin to multiply and then grow new blood vessels to obtain oxygen and food – which in turn causes the cancer cells to grow more and spread. Some bone metastases become painful because the tumour eats away at the bone, creating holes that make the bone thin and weak. As the bones are replaced with tumour, nerve endings in and around the bone send pain signals to the brain. If left untreated, bone metastases can eventually cause the bone to fracture – seriously affecting a patient’s quality of life. This is particularly true for long bones of the extremities where a fracture may render a limb non-functional. These patients may require surgical intervention to restore the function of their limbs. More commonly, metastases involve the ribs, pelvis, and spine.

For the most part, the goal of treating bone tumours is not curative, but rather palliative by reducing pain, preventing additional bone destruction, and improving function. In treating cancer patients with painful bone metastases, Interventional Radiologists may use one of the two different thermal ablation techniques – radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation. This form of therapy is aimed at desensitising the bone by killing the nerve endings in the vicinity of the metastasis. They can also treat painful vertebral metastases or fractures with vertebroplasty.