The Path to Answers: Diagnosing Bone and Soft Tissue Tumors

Male doctor looking at an x-ray to diagnose bone cancer - Dr. Herrick Siegel
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Discovering an abnormal growth or swelling on your body can be alarming. You may suspect it is a tumor, but how can you know for sure? Getting an accurate diagnosis is the critical first step before exploring treatment options. This process involves piecing together clues through physical examination, imaging, laboratory tests, biopsy and pathology. It is complex, but necessary to formulate the best plan. If you have concerns about a mass, don’t hesitate to seek answers.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Bone tumors often cause pain, which may begin as occasional and become more persistent. A lump, mass or swelling may also be felt near the tumor. Other possible signs are frequent fractures in the same bone, numbness or tingling from nerve compression, and difficulty moving a nearby joint. With soft tissue tumors, the first indication is usually a painless lump or mass under the skin. They frequently occur in the arms, legs, abdomen, chest and head/neck region. Eventually they may cause discomfort from compressing nerves and tissue. Red flags that should prompt rapid medical evaluation include night pain that disturbs sleep, rapid growth of a mass, and loss of bowel/bladder control (in spinal tumors).

Thorough Diagnostic Exams

If a tumor is suspected, your orthopaedic oncologist will conduct a meticulous physical exam, checking for lumps or tissue abnormalities. They will inquire about your symptoms, any recent injuries, risk factors and medical history. Experienced orthopaedic oncologists emphasize the importance of high-quality imaging for assessing bone and soft tissue tumors. They utilize advanced technology such as:

  • CT scans to visualize structures in detail
  • MRI scans to evaluate soft tissue involvement and guide biopsy
  • PET scans to detect spread of cancer
  • Bone scans to pinpoint areas of concern

These state-of-the-art imaging modalities allow meticulous staging of tumors prior to biopsy and surgical planning.

Assembling the Diagnostic Puzzle Pieces

In addition to imaging, your oncologist may need tissue samples from the concerning mass or bone lesion. This is obtained through biopsy procedures, which extract small amounts for pathology tests. Needle biopsies involve aspiration or cores, whereas open biopsies are surgical incisions. Your oncologist will select the safest approach and use CT guidance to target the biopsy. Once tissue is extracted, specialist musculoskeletal pathologists analyze it under microscopes. They can identify if abnormal sarcoma cells are present and classify the type of tumor. Molecular profiling helps determine appropriate therapies that specifically target the tumor. These collective results from imaging, biopsy, and pathology provide the complete diagnostic picture. Your oncologist carefully reviews all findings, stages the tumor, and discusses treatment options tailored to your needs.

Navigating the Diagnosis

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is frightening, but you don’t have to traverse it alone. Dr. Herrick Siegel is a caring physician experienced in guiding patients through this journey at his orthopaedic oncology practice, Siegel Orthopaedics, located in Birmingham, Alabama. His team compassionately explains what to anticipate at each step, whether that may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments. Dr. Siegel’s outstanding credentials include:

  • MD from NYU School of Medicine
  • Residency at University of Southern California
  • Advanced oncology training at Mayo Clinic
  • Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at UAB
  • Over 15,000 joint replacement procedures performed
  • Director of Disasterplasty, an international complex joint reconstruction course

With this wealth of knowledge, Dr. Siegel provides hope and healing to patients facing bone cancer and other orthopaedic conditions. If you have been diagnosed with a tumor or have concerns about a growth, reach out to Dr. Siegel today to begin your path forward.