Overview

Bone cancer is an uncommon cancer that begins in a bone. Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the long bones that make up the arms and legs.

Several types of bone cancer exist. Some types of bone cancer occur primarily in children, while others affect mostly adults.

The term "bone cancer" doesn't include cancers that begin elsewhere in the body and spread (metastasize) to the bone. Instead, those cancers are named for where they began, such as breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • Bone pain
  • Swelling and tenderness near the affected area
  • Broken bone
  • Fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or your child develops signs and symptoms that worry you.

Causes

It's not clear what causes most bone cancers. Doctors know bone cancer begins as an error in a cell's DNA. The error tells the cell to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. These cells go on living, rather than dying at a set time. The accumulating mutated cells form a mass (tumor) that can invade nearby structures or spread to other areas of the body.

Types of bone cancer

Bone cancers are broken down into separate types based on the type of cell where the cancer began. The most common types of bone cancer include:

  • Osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma begins in the bone cells. Osteosarcoma occurs most often in children and young adults, in the bones of the leg or arm.
  • Chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcoma begins in cartilage cells. It usually occurs in the pelvis, legs or arms in middle-aged and older adults.
  • Ewing's sarcoma. It's not clear where in bone Ewing's sarcoma begins, but the tumors most commonly arise in the pelvis, legs or arms of children and young adults.

Risk factors

It's not clear what causes bone cancer, but doctors have found certain factors are associated with an increased risk, including:

  • Inherited genetic syndromes. Certain rare genetic syndromes passed through families increase the risk of bone cancer, including Li-Fraumeni syndrome and hereditary retinoblastoma.
  • Paget's disease of bone. Most commonly occurring in older adults, Paget's disease of bone can increase the risk of bone cancer developing later.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Exposure to large doses of radiation, such as those given during radiation therapy for cancer, increases the risk of bone cancer in the future.