Bone cancer pain: from mechanism to therapy

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Purpose of review

To review how common cancers such as breast, lung, and prostate cancers drive significant and frequently life-altering pain when the cells metastasize to bones.

Recent findings

Similar to cancer, the factors that drive bone cancer pain evolve and change with disease progression. Bone cancer pain has both a nociceptive and neuropathic component. The nociceptive component is driven by the release of algogenic substances by tumor and their associated stromal cells, acidosis caused by bone-destroying osteoclasts, and mechanical destabilization and fracture of the bone. The neuropathic component is induced by tumor cell growth which injures and destroys the distal ends of nerve fibers that normally innervate the bone, as well as by inducing a highly pathological sprouting of both sensory and sympathetic nerve fibers.


There is both a nociceptive and neuropathic component of bone cancer pain. In bone cancer pain, there is frequently a continual afferent drive of sensory nerve fibers that induces a peripheral and central sensitization. These mechanistic insights have begun to lead to advances in not only how we understand bone cancer pain but to the development of new therapies to treat bone cancer pain.

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