Treatment of painful bone metastases

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2010 Apr;7(4):220-9. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2010.17. Epub 2010 Mar 16.


Bone metastases are the most common cause of cancer-related pain. Radiotherapy is a safe and effective therapy and is well established for such a situation. A fractionation regimen with a short overall treatment time (< or =1 week) would be preferred if it was as effective as longer courses (2-4 weeks). Randomized clinical trials and meta-analyses have demonstrated that single-fraction radiotherapy with 1 x 8 Gy is as effective for pain relief as multi-fraction regimens such as 5 x 4 Gy in 1 week or 10 x 3 Gy in 2 weeks. Re-irradiation for recurrent pain in the irradiated region is required more often after single-fraction radiotherapy than multi-fraction radiotherapy; however, re-irradiation following single-fraction radiotherapy is safe and effective. Thus, 1 x 8 Gy is considered the standard regimen for uncomplicated painful bone metastases without pathological fractures or spinal cord compression. Multi-fraction radiotherapy results in significantly better remineralization of the osteolytic bone than single-fraction radiotherapy. Remineralization is important for preventing or treating pathological fractures. Multi-fraction long-course radiotherapy results in fewer recurrences of spinal-cord compression within the irradiated spinal region. Thus, long-course multi-fraction radiotherapy should be reserved for patients with a relatively favorable survival prognosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms / pathology
  • Bone Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Bone Neoplasms / surgery
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Diphosphonates / therapeutic use
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Humans
  • Kyphoplasty
  • Osteolysis
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / radiotherapy*
  • Pain / surgery
  • Prognosis
  • Radiotherapy*
  • Risk


  • Diphosphonates