What Is Bone Cancer?
Bone cancer occurs when a tumor, or abnormal mass of tissue,
forms in a bone. A tumor may be malignant, which means it’s growing
aggressively and spreading to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is
often referred to as cancerous. Cancer that begins in the bones is rare.
Types of Bone Cancer
Primary bone cancers are the most serious of all bone cancers.
They form directly in the bones or surrounding tissue, such as cartilage.
Cancer can also spread, or metastasize, from another part of your
body to your bones. This is known as secondary bone cancer, and this type is
more common than primary bone cancer.
Common types of primary bone cancers include:
Multiple Myeloma (MM)
Multiple myeloma is the most common type of bone cancer. It
occurs when cancer cells grow in the bone marrow and cause tumors in various
bones. MM usually affects older adults. Among bone cancers, MM has one of the
best prognoses, and many people who have it don’t require treatment.
Osteosarcoma (Osteogenic Sarcoma)
Osteosarcoma, or osteogenic sarcoma, generally affects children
and adolescents, but it can also occur in adults. It has a tendency to
originate at the tips of the long bones in the arms and legs. Osteosarcoma may
also start in the hips, shoulders, or other locations. It affects the hard
tissue that provides the outer layer of your bones.
Chondrosarcoma may occur in the pelvis, thigh areas, and
shoulders of older adults. It forms in the subchondral tissue, which is the
tough connective tissue between your bones. This is the second most common
primary cancer involving the bones.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare cancer that either begins in the soft
tissues surrounding the bones or directly in the bones of children and young
adults. The long bones of the body, such as the arms and legs, and the pelvis
are commonly affected.
What Are the Symptoms of Bone Cancer?
The symptoms of bone cancer are:
- pain and swelling in the affected bones
- palpable hard mass in the long bones of the
- feeling tired or fatigued
Less common symptoms include:
- easily broken bones
- weight loss
What Causes Bone Cancer?
The cause of bone cancer isn’t exactly known, but there are
certain factors that may contribute to or increase a person’s chances of
forming abnormal growths in the bone. These include:
Abnormal Cellular Growth
Healthy cells continually divide and replace older cells. After
completing this process they die. Abnormal cells, however, continue living.
They start forming masses of tissue that turn into tumors.
Radiation therapy, which kills dangerous cancer cells, can be
used to treat bone cancer. However, osteosarcoma may form in some people who
receive the treatment. The use of high dosages of radiation may be a factor in
Who Is at Risk for Bone Cancer?
The following may be risk factors for bone cancer:
- having a family history of cancer, especially
- having received radiation treatment or therapy
in the past
- having Paget’s disease, which is a condition
that causes the bones to break down and then grow back abnormally
- currently or previously having had multiple
tumors in the cartilage, which is the connective tissue in the bone
Diagnosing Bone Cancer
Doctors classify primary bone cancer in stages. These stages
describe where the cancer is, what it’s doing, and how much it has affected
other parts of the body:
- Stage 1
bone cancer hasn’t spread from the bone.
- Stage 2
bone cancer hasn’t spread but may become invasive, making it a threat to
- Stage 3
bone cancer has spread to one or more areas of the bone and is invasive.
- Stage 4
bone cancer has spread to the tissues surrounding the bone and to other organs
such as the lungs or brain.
Your doctor may use the following methods to determine the stage
of cancers in the bones:
- a biopsy, which analyzes a small sample of
tissue to diagnose cancer
- a bone scan, which checks the condition of the
- a blood test
- imaging testing that includes X-rays, MRI scans,
and CT scans to get in-depth views of the bones’ structure
Treating Bone Cancer
Treatment depends on:
- the stage of cancer
- your age
- your overall health
- the size and location of the tumor
Medications that treat bone cancer include:
- chemotherapy drugs for multiple myeloma
- pain medications to relieve inflammation and
- bisphosphonates to help prevent bone loss and
protect bone structure
- cytotoxic drugs to prohibit or stop the growth
of cancerous cells
Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy to kill the cancer
Your doctor may surgically remove tumors or affected tissue.
Surgery to remove and replace damaged bone is an option to stop cancers that
spread quickly. For extensive bone damage in the arms or legs, amputation may
Your doctor may add alternative therapies that include herbal
treatments to your care plan. However, this must be done with careful
consideration as some alternative treatments may interfere with chemotherapy
and radiation treatments.
Long-Term Outlook for People with Bone
The five-year survival rate for bone cancer greatly depends on
the location and the stage of cancer when you’re first diagnosed.