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Pathologic Fracture

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Updated December 06, 2008

Pathologic Fracture

A patient with a pathologic fracture of the hip.

X-Ray Image © Jonathan Cluett, MD
Definition: A pathologic fracture occurs when a bone breaks in an area that is weakened by another disease process. Causes of weakened bone include tumors, infection, and certain inherited bone disorders. There are dozens of diseases and conditions that can lead to a pathologic fracture.

Why do pathologic fractures occur?
A pathologic fracture usually occurs with normal activities--patients may be doing very routine activities when their bone suddenly fractures. The reason is that the underlying disease process weakens the bone to the point where the bone is unable to perform its normal function.

For example, a bone cyst may grow to a significant size where the tumor effectively eats away a significant portion of normal bone. This area of bone is now much weaker, and prone to pathologic fracture. When a broken bone occurs through the weakened area it is called a pathologic fracture.

What is the treatment of a pathologic fracture?
This is a very complicated question, but the simple answer is that both the fracture, and the underlying process must be considered in order for treatment to be safe and effective. Some pathologic fractures require the same treatment as a normal fracture, while others may require highly specialized care.

You can see a case of a patient with a pathologic fracture on the following page:

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