Ed McMahon, 86, dies from “bone cancer”

Primary bone cancer is cancer that forms in cells of the bone. Sometypes of primary bone cancer are osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, malignantfibrous histiocytoma, and chondrosarcoma. Secondary bone cancer iscancer that spreads to the bone from another part of the body (such asthe prostate, breast, or lung). Primary bone cancers tend to occur in younger people, even children and teenagers. Secondary or metastatic bone cancers are usually diseases of older people. It is most likely that Mr. McMahon’s bone tumors originated in another organ, perhaps his prostate gland since prostate cancer is a very common tumor about older men and frequently metastasizes to bone.

Key Points about Primary Bone Cancers

  • Cancer that starts in the bone is uncommon
  • Pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer
  • Surgery is the usual treatment for primary bone cancers (those that start in the bone)
  • With modern surgical techniques, 9 out of 10 people who have bone cancer in an arm or leg may not need amputation
  • Because bone cancer can come back after treatment, regular follow-up visits are important
  • People with bone cancer are encouraged to enroll in clinical trial (research studies) that explore new treatments


Key Points Cancers that have spread to the bones from elsewhere

  • Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and grow without control
  • The place where the cancer started is called the primary cancer or the primary tumor
  • Metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells spread from the place where the cancer started to other parts of the body
  • When cancer spreads, the metastatic cancer has the same type of cells and the same name as the primary tumor
  • The most common sites of metastases are the lungs, bones, liver and brain
  • Treatment for metastatic cancer usually depends on the type of cancer as well as the size and location of the metastasis


Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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