How knee pain turned out to be CANCER

A woman whose “excruciating” pain in her legs was initially dismissed by doctors as a minor muscle injury actually had a four-inch cancerous tumor.

Ellie Downes, a York police officer, first experienced pain in her left knee in October 2020.

The 27-year-old was told by doctors during two GP appointments over four months that it was just a strain or sprain that would subside over time.

But after insisting on further checkups, a scan revealed she actually had osteosarcoma, a cancer that affects the bones.

After surgery and months of chemotherapy, Ellie is now cancer-free and called for stricter cancer controls so that cases like hers are not missed in the first place.

Ellie Downes (pictured in July 2021), a York police officer, first experienced pain in her left knee in October 2020

The 27-year-old (pictured in April 2023) was told by doctors during two April 2023 GP appointments

The 27-year-old (pictured in April 2023) was told by doctors during two GP appointments over four months that it was just a strain or sprain that would diminish over time

But after insisting on further checkups, a scan revealed she actually had osteosarcoma, a cancer that affects the bones.  Pictured: Tumor in Ellie's leg in June 2021

But after insisting on further checkups, a scan revealed she actually had osteosarcoma, a cancer that affects the bones. Pictured: Tumor in Ellie’s leg in June 2021

Ellie first contacted her GP about her knee pain in November 2020.

During a telephone consultation with a GP, she was told it was a problem in the soft tissue around her knee – such as a strain or sprain – that would heal with rest.

After “pushing” doctors to investigate further, she had a personal appointment in March 2021.

Her GP said she had ligament damage – when the connective tissue between the bones becomes overstretched and tears.

She was told to refer herself to a physiotherapist, who recommended an MRI scan.

What is Osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma is the most common form of bone cancer and is most commonly diagnosed in teens and young adults.

It occurs when the cells that grow new bone form a cancerous tumor.

About 160 people in Britain and 1,000 in the US are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Most tumors usually develop around the knee, either in the lower part of the femur or in the upper part of the tibia.

Bone and joint pain, easy bruising, broken bones and fractures caused by weakening of the bone due to a tumor are among the most common symptoms.

If the cancer has not spread, the long-term survival rate is between 70 and 75 percent.

If osteosarcoma has already spread at diagnosis, such as to the lungs or other bones, the long-term survival rate is about 30 percent.

The results revealed she had a four-inch tumor growing in her tibia – the second longest bone in the body, which runs from just below the knee to the ankle.

A subsequent biopsy in July 2021 confirmed it was cancer and she had osteosarcoma.

About 160 people in Britain and 1,000 in the US are diagnosed with cancer each year.

Bone and joint pain, easy bruising, broken bones and fractures caused by weakening of the bone due to a tumor are among the most common symptoms.

“When I first got my diagnosis, I felt numb,” Ellie said.

It took months for reality to sink in.

“I vividly remember being in the hospital at Christmas and it hit me.

“Up until that point, I felt like I was in a hamster wheel and didn’t get a chance to fully understand what was happening.

“Not for a minute did I suspect that my symptoms could be cancer.

“I was afraid I was just being dramatic and too careful.”

She added: “If I hadn’t seen the physiotherapist I would have just let it go and not pushed the doctors any further.

“It’s pretty scary thinking that the tumor could have continued to grow quickly and could have broken my bone from the inside out.

“This could have resulted in the spread of the cancer and a terminal prognosis.”

After her diagnosis, surgeons removed part of Ellie’s tibia and knee joint in an attempt to free her from the four-inch tumor.

She then underwent chemotherapy until October 2022.

But just two months after finishing treatment, a scan revealed that she had cancer in her lungs and that she had developed two more osteosarcoma tumors.

Ellie said, “My second diagnosis hit me much harder.

After surgery and months of chemotherapy, Ellie (pictured in August 2021) is now cancer free and called for more robust cancer controls so cases like hers are not missed in the first place

After surgery and months of chemotherapy, Ellie (pictured in August 2021) is now cancer free and called for more robust cancer controls so cases like hers are not missed in the first place

About 160 people in Britain and 1,000 in the US are diagnosed with cancer each year.  Pictured: Ellie in November 2021, one day after surgery

About 160 people in Britain and 1,000 in the US are diagnosed with cancer each year. Pictured: Ellie in November 2021, one day after surgery

Bone and joint pain, easy bruising, broken bones and fractures caused by weakening of the bone due to a tumor are among the most common symptoms.  In the photo: Ellie stands for the first time after leg surgery in November 2021

Bone and joint pain, easy bruising, broken bones and fractures caused by weakening of the bone due to a tumor are among the most common symptoms. In the photo: Ellie stands for the first time after leg surgery in November 2021

But she says she is now able to

But she says she is now able to “finally rebuild” her life and plan her spring 2025 wedding in Cyprus with her partner, Max, 27 (pictured in May 2023)

Ellie (pictured in July 2023) added: 'I'm recovering well and looking forward to getting back to work and getting back to normalcy'

Ellie (pictured in July 2023) added: ‘I’m recovering well and looking forward to getting back to work and getting back to normalcy’

“I was afraid to tell my family; they had seen me just so badly that I didn’t want them to go through that again.

“We knew what was going to happen, so somehow it felt scarier.”

Before her second course of treatment, she went to a fertility clinic to collect her eggs, hoping to use them to conceive in the future.

Ellie completed her treatment in April this year and is now cancer-free, although she has a small lump in her lung that is checked through scans every three months.

But she says she is now able to “finally rebuild” her life and plan her spring 2025 wedding in Cyprus with her partner, Max, 27.

Despite her initial struggle to get a diagnosis, Ellie says the NHS has treated her ‘greatly’ ever since.

She said: ‘I understand it would cost so much money to scan every young patient with mild knee pain, when nine times out of 10 it may be nothing to worry about.

“However, I believe there should be a screening process and checklist, just like with breast, ovarian and prostate cancer, so that cases like mine are not missed in the future.”

Ellie added: ‘I’m recovering well and looking forward to getting back to work and getting back to normalcy.

‘Currently I am setting up a charity that supports 25 to 35 year olds who have or are living with cancer.

“I’m looking forward to planning my wedding and trying to have a baby: all things I was ready for before I got cancer.”

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