Bone Cancer: Overview
What is bone cancer?
Cancer starts when cells change (mutate) and 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. They can spread to other parts of the body, too. This
is called metastasis.
Primary bone cancer is cancer that starts in the cells that make up your bones. It's
sometimes just called bone cancer. Primary bone cancer is very different from secondary,
or metastatic, bone cancer. Metastatic bone cancer 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 cancer that started
in another part of the body.
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 that might increase your risk
for it include:
A family history of genetic syndromes or certain rare cancers, such as Li-Fraumeni
syndrome or retinoblastoma
Having had radiation therapy or certain chemotherapy medicines to treat another cancer
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 tend to develop slowly over time. They depend on the
type, location, and size of the tumor. Here are some common symptoms:
Pain in the bone
Swelling or a lump or mass in the area of the pain
Other symptoms, such as fever, weight loss, fatigue, numbness, or weakness
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. Still, it's 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. A physical
exam will be done. You may also have some tests done, such as blood tests and 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 show if the tumor is a primary or secondary bone cancer. (A secondary bone cancer
is one that has spread to the bone from cancer that started in another part of the
body.) Small pieces of tissue are taken out from the tumor and tested for cancer cells.
Your results will come back in about 1 week.
After a diagnosis of bone cancer, you’ll need more tests. These help your healthcare
providers learn more about your overall health and the exact type of bone cancer.
They're used to find out the stage and grade of the cancer. The stage is how much
cancer there is and how far it has spread (metastasized) in your body. It's one of
the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer. The grade
is used as part of staging. It gives you an idea of how fast the cancer will grow
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what
this means for your treatment. Ask your provider to explain the details of your cancer
to you in a way you can understand.
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 may be to cure you, 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, how your body will look and work after treatment, 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 and targeted therapy
are systemic treatments. 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 decision.
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 linked to your treatment. There are often ways
to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can take to help
prevent or control many treatment 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 that impact your daily life.
Here are a few 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 rabbi.
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or anxiety.
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 possible.
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. For instance, you
may be told to call if you have:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever or chills
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or don’t get better with
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.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
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
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.