Key Points about Bone Cancer
- Bone cancer can develop in any bone in the body but most often occurs in the pelvis, arms or legs.
- Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy, bone scans and physical exams to diagnose bone cancer.
- Treatment for bone cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Bone cancer is the type of cancer that affects the bones – most often affecting the pelvis and long bones of the arms or legs. Bone cancer is a rare type of cancer, making up less than 1 percent of all cancer cases.
Types of bone cancer include:
- Osteosarcoma – this type begins in the cells that form bones – most often in the long bones of the legs or arms. This is the most common type of bone cancer.
- Chondrosarcoma – this type begins in the bones or soft tissue near the bones – most often in the pelvis, hip or shoulder. The second most common type of bone cancer, chondrosarcoma, affects middle-aged or older adults.
- Ewing sarcoma – this rare type begins in the bones or soft tissue near the bones – most often in the leg bones or pelvis. This type typically affects children and young adults.
Bone cancer causes
Bone cancer is caused when mutations (changes) occur in the cells of the bones, and then those cells grow and multiply quickly
Bone cancer risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing bone cancer:
- Having certain inherited genetic syndromes, including Li-Fraumeni syndrome and hereditary retinoblastoma
- Having Paget’s disease of bone
- Having undergone radiation therapy
Bone cancer symptoms
Symptoms of bone cancer may include:
- Pain in the bones
- Swelling and tenderness near the area of cancer
- Unintentional weight loss
- Weakened bones, which leads to bone fractures
Bone cancer diagnosis
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam – including asking questions about your health history, your symptoms and related risk factors.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the bone. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer.
- Bone scan – during this imaging test, your doctor looks for areas of abnormalities in your bones that could indicate that you have bone cancer.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the bone cancer.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the bone cancer.
Bone cancer treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the bone cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
- Chemotherapy – you may also need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.