Bone Cancer

What is Bone Cancer?

Bone cancer is sometimes used as an umbrella term that could apply to many conditions in which cells divide rapidly, such as bone tumors, primary bone sarcoma, Lymphoma, and metastastic cancer.

If a patient has a bone tumor—like osteoid osteoma—the patient will have a benign tumor instead of a true cancer, since these kinds of conditions cannot spread into nearby tissues or invade other areas of the body.

Unlike benign tumors, primary bone sarcoma is a true cancer that can form in bone cells. Primary bone sarcoma can form in different bones of the body. For instance, osteosarcoma is a specific type of bone cancer that usually develops in the upper arms or knees while chondrosarcoma can develop in the hips or pelvic bones.

Conditions like multiple myeloma and lymphoma are sometimes colloquially known as bone cancers even though multiple myeloma is a blood cancer and lymphoma is a cancer that affects the lymph nodes. However, multiple myeloma can cause protein buildup in bones and an abnormal release of plasma cells which can break down bone tissue—hence the association with bone cancer. Likewise, lymphoma sometimes originates in the marrow of bones.

While some cancers originate in the bones, many are metastic cancers, meaning they originated elsewhere but their cancerous cells have spread to bones. So if a patient has breast cancer that has spread to a bone, they don’t actually have both breast cancer and bone cancer. Rather, they have breast cancer with a metastasis to the bone.

What are the Symptoms of Bone Cancer?

Unfortunately, it is quite common to have no symptoms of a bone cancer. The doctor may incidentally uncover a problem when looking at X-rays for another issue.

Symptoms include

  • night sweats or fever
  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty walking if leg bones are affected
  • dull throb or ache in the area of the tumor
  • pain in affected area during or after activity (that is not delayed onset muscle soreness [DOMS])
  • fractured or broken bones from the cancer weakening bones

Bone Cancer Causes

The reason for the error in the cell’s DNA that causes cancer isn’t known. Bone cancer starts by errors in a cell’s DNA that causes the cell to grow and divide out of control. In addition to growing and dividing, the cells don’t die at their appointed time, increasing the number of cells that are in a given area, creating a tumor. Risk factors are known, such as inherited genetic syndromes, for example, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and hereditary retinoblastoma. Previous radiation therapy also increases the risk for bone cancer, because of the large amounts of radiation used. In older adults, Paget’s disease can also increase the risk for bone cancer later on in life. Injuries to a bone do not cause that bone to get bone cancer, what’s most likely happening is the person is more sensitive to the bone afterward, so they catch an issue that was already in progress.

How is Bone Cancer Treated?

If a doctor discovers a benign tumor, he or she may prescribe a mediation and just observe the tumor to make sure it doesn’t become malignant. In some cases, the doctor may remove the tumor to make sure it doesn’t become cancer.

If the tumor has turned malignant, the treatment options are much more invasive due to the seriousness of the condition. If the bone cancer is localized it is easier to treat than a metastic cancer that has spread.

Treatment includes

  • Limb salvage surgery. During this treatment, the doctor removes the portion of bone with cancer, while saving nearby muscles and tissues so that a bone prosthesis can be put in place.
  • Radiation or Chemotherapy. The doctor uses high-dose x-rays that can kill the cancer or decrease its size. This can be used before limb salvage surgery or after. Like radiation, chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery. It stops cancer cells from spreading through the bloodstream.
  • Amputation. This treatment occurs if the cancer has spread too much and limb salvage surgery isn’t possible.

Bone Cancer Prevention

Cancer prevention of any sort revolves around living a healthy lifestyle. If you smoke, quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of any cancer developing. Eat a well-balanced diet, full of fruits and vegetables. The nutrition in fresh fruit and vegetables helps the body repair damage done to it, including damage that’s at the genetic level. Keeping your weight within a healthy range is beneficial for preventing cancer. In addition to eating well, being physically active increases blood flow which also reduces the risk of cancer. If getting out and running five miles a day isn’t appealing to you, yoga is a great alternative. Yoga helps keep the blood moving and improves flexibility. In addition to eating well and exercising, get your immunization shots. Diseases like Hepatitis B and HPV can lead to cancer. Regular medical care is vital for catching cancer early when treatment is the most effective.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 17, 2017