Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the pelvis or the long bones in the arms and legs. Bone cancer is rare, making up less than 1 percent of all cancers. In fact, noncancerous bone tumors are much more common than cancerous ones.
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.
Some types of bone cancer occur primarily in children, while others affect mostly adults. Surgical removal is the most common treatment, but chemotherapy and radiation therapy also may be utilized. The decision to use surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is based on the type of bone cancer being treated.
Signs and symptoms of bone cancer include:
- Bone pain
- Swelling and tenderness near the affected area
- Weakened bone, leading to fracture
- Unintended weight loss
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you or your child develops bone pain that:
- Comes and goes
- Becomes worse at night
- Isn't helped by over-the-counter pain relievers
The cause of most bone cancers is unknown. A small number of bone cancers have been linked to hereditary factors, while others are related to previous radiation exposure.
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 is the most common form of bone cancer. In this tumor, the cancerous cells produce bone. This variety of bone cancer occurs most often in children and young adults, in the bones of the leg or arm. In rare circumstances, osteosarcomas can arise outside of bones (extraskeletal osteosarcomas).
- Chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcoma is the second most common form of bone cancer. In this tumor, the cancerous cells produce cartilage. Chondrosarcoma usually occurs in the pelvis, legs or arms in middle-aged and older adults.
- Ewing sarcoma. Ewing sarcoma tumors most commonly arise in the pelvis, legs or arms of children and young adults.
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.