Bone Cancer

Bone cancer is a rare disease in which cancer cells grow in the bone tissue. Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case bone cells, divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated method. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread. Cancer may form in the bone or spread to the bone from another site in the body. When cancer starts in bone tissue, it is called primary bone cancer. When cancer cells travel to the bone from another site in the body, it is called secondary or metastatic cancer to the bone. Types of bone cancer include:

  • Causes

    The cause of primary bone cancer is unknown. Genetics play a major role in most cases. Conditions that cause increased bone breakdown and regrowth over an extended period increase the risk of tumor development. This explains why osteosarcoma in children is most common during the adolescent growth spurt.

  • Definition

    Bone cancer is a rare disease in which cancer cells grow in the bone tissue. Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case bone cells, divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated method. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.

    Cancer may form in the bone or spread to the bone from another site in the body. When cancer starts in bone tissue, it is called primary bone cancer. When cancer cells travel to the bone from another site in the body, it is called secondary or metastatic cancer to the bone. Types of bone cancer include:

    • Osteosarcoma—a cancerous tumor of the bone, usually of the arms, legs, or pelvis
    • Chondrosarcoma
      —cancer of the cartilage
    • Ewing's sarcoma
      —tumors that usually develop in the cavity of the leg and arm bones
    • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma—cancers that develop in soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments, fat, and muscle, and move to the bones of the legs, arms, and jaw
    • Giant cell tumor—a primary bone tumor that is malignant cancerous; most common in the arm or leg bones
    • Chordoma—primary bone tumor that usually occurs in the skull or spine

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

    • Blood tests
    • Biopsy

    Your doctor may need pictures of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

    • X-ray
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
    • Bone scan

  • Prevention

    There are no guidelines for preventing primary bone cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment improve your chance of successful treatment.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that can increase your chance of getting bone cancer include:

    • Paget's disease
      —a noncancerous bone condition
    • Exposure to radiation
    • Family history of bone cancer

    Certain types of bone cancer have specific risk factors:


    • Osteosarcoma:

      • Age: 10-30 years old
      • Sex: male
      • Inherited cancer syndromes, including Li-Fraumani and Rothmund-Thompson syndromes
      • Retinoblastoma
        —a rare eye cancer
      • Bone marrow transplantation

    • Chondrosarcoma:

      • Age: older than 20 years old
      • Multiple exostoses—an inherited condition that results in bumps on bones

    • Ewing’s sarcoma:

      • Age: younger than 30 years old

    • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma:

      • Increased age

    • Giant cell tumor:

      • Age: young and middle-aged

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of bone cancer vary, depending on the location and size of the tumor.

    Symptoms may include:

    • Pain at the tumor location
    • Swelling or a lump at the location of the tumor
    • Deep bone pain severe enough to wake you up
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Fatigue
    • Trouble breathing
    • Fever or night sweats

  • Treatment

    After cancer is found, staging tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. Treatment depends on the type, stage, and location of the cancer. It also depends on your overall health. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include: