Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Prevention: Bone & Soft Tissue Cancers

Changes in lifestyle can help prevent many types of cancer. At present, however, there are no known lifestyle changes to prevent bone and related soft tissue cancers.

During the past few years, scientists have made great progress in understanding how certain changes in a person’s DNA can cause bone cells to become cancerous. DNA carries the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. We usually resemble our parents because they are the source of our DNA. However, DNA affects more than our outward appearance. It influences our risks for developing certain diseases, including some kinds of cancer.

The majority of sarcomas are not caused by inherited DNA mutations. They are the result of mutations acquired during the person’s lifetime. These mutations are present only in the cancer cells and are not passed on to the patient’s children. Although radiation is very useful in treating some forms of cancer, it also can cause cancer by damaging DNA. This is why bones exposed to radiation as a treatment for other cancers are more likely to develop sarcomas later in the patient’s lifetime.

Other DNA mutations have no apparent cause but may result from random errors that occur when cells reproduce. Before a cell divides, it must copy its DNA so that both new cells have the same set of instructions. Sometimes this copying process is not completely accurate. Scientists still do not know exactly why or how these mutations happen to some people, but not to others.

Fortunately, cells have ways of “proofreading” DNA copies and repairing any errors. But when cells divide shortly after their DNA is damaged, new “daughter cells” may be formed before the original cell has time to repair its DNA damage. Once the cells are formed, it is too late to repair the damage. The result is cell instructions for growth control can be permanently altered, and a cancer (such as osteosarcoma) may develop. This is why normal situations (such as teenage growth spurt) and diseases (such as Paget’s disease of bone) which cause rapid bone growth increase the risk of developing osteosarcoma.

Scientists are making progress in understanding this process, and as their knowledge increases, they hope to develop ways to better prevent and treat bone and soft tissue cancers.