Bone Cancer: Overview
What is bone cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
Primary bone cancer is cancer that starts in your bones. It is
also sometimes just called bone cancer. Primary bone cancer is different from
secondary, or metastatic, bone cancer, which starts in another part of the body and
spreads to the bones. Primary bone cancers are quite rare in adults. Most of the
time when an adult has cancer in the bones, it spread there from another part of the
The main types of bone cancer are:
Who is at risk for bone cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
Anyone can get primary bone cancer. But some factors can increase
your risk for it. These include:
A family history of genetic syndromes or certain rare
cancers, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome or retinoblastoma
Past radiation therapy or chemotherapy (rare) to treat
Paget disease of the bone
Certain types of bone or cartilage tumors
Bone marrow transplant (rare)
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for
bone cancer and what you can do about them.
What are the symptoms of bone cancer?
Symptoms of primary bone cancer usually develop slowly over time.
They depend on the type, location, and size of the tumor. Here are some common
Pain in the bone
Swelling or a lump or mass in the area of the pain
Other symptoms, such as weight loss, fatigue, numbness, or
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is
important to see your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a
healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is bone cancer diagnosed?
If your healthcare provider thinks you may have primary bone
cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. Your healthcare provider
will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family
history of disease. He or she will also give you a physical exam. You may also have
one or more tests, such as an X-ray or other imaging tests.
A biopsy is the only sure way to tell for sure if you have bone
cancer. A biopsy can also help the doctor tell if the tumor is a primary or
secondary bone cancer. (A secondary bone cancer is one that has spread to the bone
from another part of the body.) Small pieces of tissue are taken out from the tumor
and checked for cancer cells. Your results will come back in about 1 week.
After a diagnosis of bone cancer, you’ll likely have other tests.
These help your healthcare providers learn more about your cancer. They can help
determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has
spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to know
when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your
healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can
How is bone cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of primary bone cancer
you have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment is may be
to cure you, or control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk
with your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and
what the risks and side effects may be. Other things to think about are if the
cancer can be removed with surgery and your overall health.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and
radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control
cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or
injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may have just one treatment or
a combination of treatments.
Bone cancer may be treated with:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and
vomiting. Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might have and
ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can take to
help prevent or control side effects.
Coping with bone cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work
together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with as many protein foods as
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don’t get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Keypoints about Bone Cancer
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have