Giant cell tumors, also called large cell tumors, may be comprised of many different types of cells (bone, lung, ect.), but they are distinguished by the fact that the cells themselves are larger than normal.
Observing the size of the cell helps doctors to diagnose and treat the cancer, but giant cell tumors of different types do not have a uniform prognosis.
The most common types of giant cell tumors include:
- Giant Cell Carcinoma
- Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma
- Giant Cell Bone Tumors
An important distinction is that giant cell bone tumors are usually benign, while the other two types are malignant.
Causes and Risk Factors
As with cancer in general, there are no clear explanations for the appearance of giant cell tumors, although some risk factors are known. Giant cell carcinomas, a form of lung cancer, are strongly associated with smoking. Giant cell tumors of the bone are associated with Pagetís disease, a chronic disorder that deforms the bone. Although no specific risk factors for anaplastic large cell lymphoma are known, it disproportionately affects younger people and males.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of giant cell tumors depend upon the specific type. Symptoms of giant cell bone tumors include accumulation of fluid in the joint nearest to the affected bone, as well as pain and limited mobility in that joint. Swelling and bone fractures in the affected area are also common signs.
Anaplastic large cell lymphoma is usually not apparent until the later stages, but symptoms at this point include swelling in the neck, armpit or groin. Sufferers may also experience loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss, as well as fatigue, night sweats, and unexplained high temperatures.
As with large cell lymphoma, large cell carcinoma may not exhibit symptoms at first, but persistent coughing, coughing up blood, wheezing, and fatigue are all be signs that may appear in the later stages of the disease.
Depending on the symptoms that are present, diagnostic techniques may include x-rays of the affected area, biopsies of the tumor, and blood tests. For anaplastic large cell lymphoma, bone marrow samples may also be analyzed. Bone scans are a common way of detecting giant cell bone tumors.
Treatments for giant cell bone tumors depend on the size and severity of the tumor. After performing surgery to remove the tumor, doctors might recommend grafting healthy bone from another part of the body in order to reconstruct the limb, and recovery will be aided by physical therapy. In very severe cases, amputation may be necessary.
It is also important to note that giant cell bone tumors may recur, and so constant monitoring is required even after surgery.
Giant cell carcinoma is treated differently depending on how advanced it is, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. In the early stages, especially with small tumors, it may be addressed by removing a small section of lung tissue. Surgical resection may be followed up with radiation or chemotherapy to guard against recurrences.
In cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can still be used to prolong life, but unfortunately, giant cell carcinoma cancer does not respond to these treatments as readily as do other types of cancer.
Like giant cell carcinoma, anaplastic large cell lymphoma is typically treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It is known for responding well to these treatments, and they may cause the cancer to go into remission.