Bone cancer is a growth of cells that starts in a bone. Bone cancer can start in any bone. But it most often affects the thighbone.

The term "bone cancer" doesn't include cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the bones. Instead, cancer that spreads to the bone is named for the place it began. For example, cancer that starts in the lungs and spreads to the bones is still lung cancer. Healthcare professionals might call it lung cancer that has metastasized to the bones.

Cancer that starts in the bones is rare. Different types of bone cancers exist. Some types of bone cancers mostly happen in children. Other types happen mostly in adults.

Common bone cancer treatments include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The best treatment for your bone cancer depends on the type of bone cancer, which bone is affected and other factors.



Signs and symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • Bone pain.
  • Swelling and tenderness near the affected area.
  • Weakened bone, which can lead to a broken bone.
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Losing weight without trying.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare professional if you have any symptoms that worry you.

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The cause of most bone cancers isn't known. Bone cancer starts when cells in or near a bone develop changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA holds the instructions that tell the cell what to do. In healthy cells, the DNA gives instructions to grow and multiply at a set rate. The instructions tell the cells to die at a set time. In cancer cells, the DNA changes give different instructions. The changes tell the cancer cells to make many more cells quickly. Cancer cells can keep living when healthy cells would die. This causes too many cells.

The cancer cells might form a mass called a tumor. The tumor can grow to invade and destroy healthy body tissue. In time, cancer cells can break away and spread to other parts of the body. When cancer spreads, it's called metastatic cancer.

Types of bone cancer

Bones contain a variety of different types of cells. Bone cancers are broken down into separate types, often based on the type of cell where the cancer began. The most common types of bone cancer include:

  • Osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones. It's the most common type of bone cancer. Osteosarcoma tends to happen most often in teenagers and young adults. But it also can happen in younger children and older adults. Osteosarcoma happens most often in the long bones of the legs and sometimes the arms. Very rarely, it happens in soft tissue outside the bone.
  • Chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that usually begins in the bones, but can sometimes occur in the soft tissue. Chondrosarcoma happens most often in the pelvis, hip and shoulder. It happens most often in middle-aged and older adults.
  • Ewing sarcoma. Ewing sarcoma is a type of bone cancer that begins in the bones and the soft tissue around the bones. Ewing sarcoma mostly happens in children and young adults, although it can happen at any age. It most often begins in the leg bones and in the pelvis, but it can happen in any bone.

Risk factors

Things that increase the risk of bone cancer include:

  • Inherited genetic syndromes. Certain rare genetic syndromes passed through families increase the risk of bone cancer. Examples include Li-Fraumeni syndrome and hereditary retinoblastoma.
  • Other bone conditions. Some other bone conditions may increase the risk of bone cancer. The other bone conditions include Paget's disease of bone and fibrous dysplasia.
  • Cancer treatment. Radiation therapy for cancer and some kinds of chemotherapy medicines used to treat cancer may increase the risk of bone cancer.

Healthcare professionals haven't found any ways to prevent bone cancer.

May 11, 2024

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  3. Bone cancer. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/guidelines/guidelines-detail?category=1&id=1418. Accessed April 1, 2024.
  4. Hornicek FJ, et al. Bone tumors: Diagnosis and biopsy techniques. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 1, 2024.
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  7. COG institution locations. Children's Oncology Group. https://www.childrensoncologygroup.org/apps/instmap/default.aspx. Accessed April 1, 2024.


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