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:
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.
Factors that can increase your chance of getting bone cancer include:
Certain types of bone cancer have specific risk factors:
Symptoms of bone cancer vary, depending on the location and size of the tumor.
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be needed of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
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:
Radiation therapy for bone cancer uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
Radiation of Tumor
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Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms, including: pill, injection, and through a tube called a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body, killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
Surgery for bone cancer involves the removal of a cancerous tumor, nearby tissues, and possible nearby lymph nodes. Surgery may require amputation of the limb with cancer. Whenever possible, doctors try to remove the cancerous part of the bone without amputating. In this case, metal plates or a bone graft replaces the cancerous tissue that has been removed.
Sometimes, adding radiation therapy or chemotherapy can help avoid the need for amputation. If the tumor is large or aggressive, or the risk of it spreading is high, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be added to help prevent it from returning. This is also done to prevent it from spreading to distant organs.
For cancer that has spread, intense chemotherapy is sometimes given to kill cancer cells. This therapy also destroys the bone marrow. Stem cells, which have the ability to develop into other types of cells, are then given to replace the lost bone marrow.
Certain cancer types require specific treatments:
There are no guidelines for preventing primary bone cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment improve your chance of successful treatment.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Caring for Kids
The Canadian Paediatric Society
Bone cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
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Updated March 13, 2008. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Detailed guide: bone cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed September 3, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 9/3/2014