Updated: 2022, Aug 12

Get The Facts About Bone Cancer (And Causes, Symptoms & Treatment)

Here, we'll focus on cancers that affect the bones and how they are treated.

Get The Facts About Bone Cancer (And Causes, Symptoms & Treatment)
Bone cancer occurs when a tumor forms in a bone. Shutterstock Images


Cancer is a dreadful disease to be diagnosed with.

Most people that are reading this report will have dealt with cancer in some way throughout their lifespan – this does not necessarily mean they have been diagnosed with cancer before, but surely at least someone they know has battled with this disease in the past.

Cancer is a disease that is caused by cells that divide and grow at an uncontrollable rate, resulting in cancerous cells that take over the place of other cells that serve important functions in the human body.

This disease can affect any person – regardless of age, sex, gender or race.

It can also develop in any region of the human body and affect various vital body parts, such as the skin, blood, organs and even the bones of the body.

There are different kinds of cancers, each affecting different cells in the body.

In many patients today, cancer starts in a particular location and is treated before it grows to a degree where it becomes untreatable.

Some patients, however, experience a more progressive form of this disease or is diagnosed with cancer at a stage where the disease cannot be treated successfully.

In such a case, cancer can (or already has started to) spread to other parts of the body.

According to Everyday Health[1], the most common types of cancers that are diagnosed in patients in the United States include skin cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, leukemia and kidney cancer.

This only accounts for 11 types of cancers, but, in total, there are over 200 different types of identified cancers.

In this post, we are not going to discuss the facts about these common cancer types, but rather turn our focus to cancer that is rarely diagnosed.

Cancer we are focusing on here is bone cancer – cancer that only accounts for less than 1% of all diagnosed cases of cancer.

An Overview of Bone Cancer

Bone Cancer Discuss

In this report we will discuss the different types of bone cancer that can affect a patient, as well as take a look at the symptoms that this type of cancer causes, the contributing factors that increase a patient’s risk of developing bone cancer and we will look at the most effective treatment measures that can be utilized by patients to help reduce the severity of their symptoms and, of course, treat the cancer.

Prior to discussing these details about bone cancer, we should first explain what bone cancer is.

Firstly, it is important to understand that bone cancer is not a common type of cancer.

In fact, it is so rarely diagnosed that it only affects approximately 1% of all patients that have cancer.

As the name suggestions, this type of cancer affects the bones in the human body.

Bone cancer occurs when cells in the bones start to divide and grow at a rapid rate.

The rapid increase in the particular type of cell’s volume causes the space that is available for normal cells to be reduced significantly and it can also lead to a displacement of bone tissue.

The abnormal division and growth of the cells cause a tumor to develop in the bones.

The tumor is essential a lump that consists of the uncontrollable cells and can lead to a compression of bone tissue and cells in the particular area that is still in a healthy condition.

The Prevalence of Bone Cancer

Bone cancer is one of the rarest types of cancer to be diagnosed amongst the global human population.

As we have already noticed in this report, it accounts for 1% or less of all cancers that are diagnosed in the United States and the figure is similar to other countries throughout the world.

Still, bone cancer does affect some people, so it is important to understand what this cancer is, what symptoms it causes and how it can be treated.

Being educated about the prevalence of bone cancer is another important part of realizing your own chances of developing this type of cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute[2], the risk of developing this cancer is one in 100,000. This calculates to approximately 0.1% of the human population.

They also report that the estimated number of bone cancer cases that will be diagnosed in the year 2017 will be approximately 3,260.

Considering the current estimates on the diagnoses of cancers, based on data that are available for the past few centuries, this means that, in 2017, bone cancer will only account for about 0.2% of all new cancer diagnosis.

When compared to the prevalence of other cancer types, such as breast cancer, which is ranking as the most prevalence, and lung cancer, rated second most prevalent; bone cancer comes in at number 26 – making it far less common than most of the well-known cancer types.

Malignant and Benign Tumors

Malignant And Benign Tumors difference Info

Now that we have provided a basic overview of bone cancer, it is time to start discussing more specific details about this cancer type.

Let us start by considering the difference between the primary types of tumors that can grow in your bones- benign tumors and malignant tumors.

It is very important to understand that these two types of tumors are very different from one another – even though they are both considered growths that the body does not need and, in many cases, find obstructive and, of course, both are called “tumors”.

Knowing the difference between the two can help you determine whether the condition a patient is diagnosed with is serious or harmless at the time of diagnosis, and can also ensure the most appropriate treatment measures are utilized to help remove the problem before it becomes too serious, spreads to other parts of the body or, worse, lead to mortality.

The reason why it is so important that a patient understands the difference between a benign and a malignant tumor is due to the fact that the one is considered as cancer, while the other one is only considered to be a lump in the body that does not have any particular function within the body; thus still yielded as unnecessary.

What Is Benign Tumor?

Let’s first discuss the less harmful type of tumor that can develop in the bones – a benign tumor.

A benign tumor is, similar to a cancerous tumor, an overgrowth and rapid division of cells that are completely uncontrollable.

The result is a lump that develops in a part of the body – in this case, the bones.

When a tumor is benign, it means it is not cancerous and will not act like a tumor that can be classified as cancer.

Whenever a patient is suspected of cancer, a test is often first conducted to determine whether the tumor is benign or cancerous – finding out that a tumor is benign is often considered to be a big relief for the patient that is affected by the tumor.

According to the Academical Hospital Utrecht[3] in The Netherlands, a benign tumor due to a total number of two to three cellular mutations, also referenced as specific cancer mutations.

Apart from knowing that a benign tumor is often not harmful and will usually not lead to mortality, it is also important that we discuss the characteristics of such a tumor.

According to HealthHype.com[4], a benign tumor is a mobile mass that is not fixed.

They also explain that a benign tumor has a round and smooth shape, and the tumor is surrounded by a fibrous capsule.

Furthermore, the cells that cause the formation of a benign tumor multiple at a slower rate than the multiplication rate of the cells that cause a cancerous tumor.

We also want to note that a benign tumor does metastasize, which means it will not spread to other parts of the body or to surrounding tissue.

Lastly, a benign tumor is much easier to treat and remove than a cancerous tumor and, once removed, the tumor will not form again.

What Is Malignant Tumor?

Malignant Tumor

Now let’s take a look at the other type of tumor that can form in the bones – a malignant tumor.

This is the type of tumor that is associated with cancer.

It is quite opposite from a benign tumor as this type of tumor is harmful to the human body – not only when the tumor itself pushes against nerves, blood vessels or glands, but also due to the fact that this tumor can spread and destroy cells and tissue in its surroundings.

The Canadian Cancer Society[5] explains that the nucleus of a cell that is cancerous is different than the nucleus of a non-cancerous cell.

They also explain that cancerous cells are known to grow in a different way that healthy, normal cells and that they also exert a different behavior.

Furthermore, the functioning of a cell that is cancerous is not similar to how normal cell functions.

When these cells continue to grow and form a malignant tumor, they can have an adverse impact on certain functions of the body.

Apart from their interference with the functions of the human body, it is also known that the cells can break off the tumor that has formed and spread towards a different location in the body.

In some cases, the cancer cells may travel to a nearby location and affect the tissue surrounding the originally affected area, but there are also many cases where the cancer cells travel to and affect distant locations.

Unlike a benign tumor that can be removed without a high risk of the formation returning, a malignant tumor returns after removal in quite a large number of cancer-related cases.

We’ve discussed the mutations of a benign tumor in the previous section, so we should also quickly consider how a malignant tumor develops.

The same report compiled by the Academical Hospital Utrecht from The Netherlands reports that a malignant tumor develops when four specific cancer mutations occur in combination with a total of one to three tumor progression mutations.

When this type of tumor is inspected, the specialist will look at the growth rate of the cells that are forming the tumor, the encapsulation and invasion of the tumor, as well as other factors that are essential for determining not only the particular type of tumor and the cells that are malfunctioning, but also for establishing how severely the bone cancer in the affected patient has progressed.

You May Also Want To ReadOsteogenesis Imperfecta

Primary Versus Metastatic Bone Cancer

Apart from considering the primary tumor types that can form in the bones, we also need to discuss the two primary forms of bone cancer that a patient can develop.

Each of these has its own characteristics and functionality.

The one is also considered more severe and advanced than the other; thus patients should acknowledge themselves with these terms to ensure they are aware of how severe a particular case may be should they or someone they know be diagnosed with a form of bone cancer.

These two primary forms of bone cancer include primary bone cancer and metastatic bone cancer.

Forms of Bone Cancer

Let’s discuss each of these individually to distinguish between their differences and better understand how (and why) the one particular form of bone cancer is considered a more dangerous, as well as a more advanced form of this cancer.

What Is Primary Bone Cancer?

Primary bone cancer is much rarer than metastatic bone cancer – this is an important factor to consider.

This form of bone cancer refers to cancer that has developed primarily in the bones.

Primary bone cancer develops when tissue and cells in the bones start to malfunction; thus leading to cells multiplying uncontrollably and overgrowing – the result is a lump that is classified as a malignant tumor.

Primary bone cancer can affect various parts of the bones and this type of bone cancer can affect a specific area of bones or spread towards other bones as well.

Since primary bone cancer is a form of bone cancer that has originated in the bones, it is often considered easier to treat than metastatic bone cancer – but only on the condition that the primary bone cancer has not yet spread to other parts of the body.

What is Metastatic Bone Cancer?

The other form of bone cancer is known as metastatic bone cancer. Unlike primary bone cancer that has originated within the bones, metastatic bone cancer refers to cancer that originated in another part of the body and has spread to the bones.

This happens when some of the cells that formed the malignant tumor breaks off and spreads to other regions of the body.

Note that the cancerous cells that break off from the primary source are carried to other parts of the body through the blood circulatory system.

The cancerous cells then inhabit another region – sometimes distant from the primary region – and start to multiply and grow until another malignant tumor has been formed in the new area – which, in this case, happens to be the bones.

According to MacMillan Cancer Support[6], metastatic bone cancer is also sometimes called secondary bone cancer since it is the not the primary location where cancer started to develop.

Note that cells from any type of primary cancer can spread to the bones. Cancer Research UK[7] reports that, even though metastatic bone cancer can be caused by cancer from anywhere in the human body, research and past statistics show that some particularly common primary cancer forms that cause cancerous cells to affect the bones through the bloodstream include:

In men, it also seems like prostate cancer is another common cause of metastatic bone cancer.

This may, in part, be one of the reasons why men are more expected of bone cancer than women, as referred by numerous medical reports.

What are the Different Types of Bone Cancer?

Now that we have discussed the different types of tumors that can form in the bones and pointed out which one is classified as “cancerous” and can lead to the dreadful effects that cancer has on the human body, as well as considered the two different forms of bone cancer, it is time that we discuss the different types of bone cancer that can develop.

To thoroughly understand the different types of bone cancer, however, we will first need to look at how the bone is structured as different types of this cancer affect different parts of the bone.

Anatomy Of The Skeleton

Bone Anatomy

It is already commonly known that the skeleton acts as a structure for the human body. It also serves to protect the human body.

The Canadian Cancer Society[8] reports that the skeleton consists of as much as 2016 different bones. Bones are grouped together with cartilage throughout the entire skeleton.

Bones can be classified into four main groups – these groups have been compiled based on the shape of particular bones.

The four groups include:

  • Long Bones, which consists of the thigh bone and arm bones for example.
  • Short Bones, such as the ankle bones and the wrist bones.
  • Flat Bones, which includes the breastbone and the ribs.
  • Irregular Bones, consisting of the hip bone, vertebrae and more.

While each one has its own unique location, most bones follow this structure:

The Medullary Cavity

This is the center of the bone.

It is a hollow part of the bone that has been designed to contain yellow bone marrow, which stores fatty tissue.

Spongy Bone

This part of the bone is often referred to as trabecular or cancellous. There is quite a significant amount of open space in this part of the bone, as well as bones that look like tiny needles.

The structure of the spongy bone part is often compared to the structure of a honeycomb. In this part of the bone, red bone marrow is stored.

This is the location where blood cells are produced inside the bones.

Note that the majority of spongy tissue can be located in particular bones in the adult body, including the hip bones, ribs, spine, skull, breastbone, and collarbone.

Compact Bone

The compact bone plays an essential part in the structure of the bones.

It acts as an enclosure for the hollow part of the bone that contains yellow bone marrow, also known as the medullary cavity.

The compact bone has a hard, smooth texture and this part of the bone is significantly dense.


If you have ever read about diseases that affect the joints, such as arthritis, then you’ve surely read about (or at least heard about) cartilage before.

Cartilage is located at the end of bones in the body.

Cartilage is connective tissue and has a gel-like texture.

The purpose of cartilage is to serve as a cushion to protect bones from touching each other with movement.

Cartilage is also responsible for absorbing shock; thus reducing the pressure placed upon the bones.


The periosteum is the outer part of a bone.

It can be found on the entire bone, except at its ends.

The periosteum consists of fibrous tissue.

We should also note that bones are made of cells. These cells form bone tissue. Old and dead bone cells are frequently being replaced by new cells.

The three types of cells that form bones in the body include osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and osteocytes.

Bone Cancer Types

Bone Cancer Types Info

Now that we have analyzed the structure of the skeleton and the bones, we should discuss the different kinds of bone cancers.

There are a significant number of bone cancer types.

We are going to take a look at the particular bone cancers that are most commonly diagnosed amongst patients.


Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer that doctors diagnose in the United States, as reported by Cancer Treatment Centers of America[9].

In some cases, a doctor may also refer to this type of bone cancer as osteogenic sarcoma.

Medical experts often find that osteosarcoma starts to develop in the pelvic area, as well as the arms and legs.

Osteosarcoma starts to develop in the bone’s osteoid tissue.

Ewing Tumor

This is another type of bone cancer that is somewhat common amongst those diagnosed with this type of cancer.

Some doctors may refer to this type of cancer as Ewing’s sarcoma.

Note that this type of cancer does not necessarily start in the bones, but can also start its development in muscles and other tissues.

The most common regions of the body where this type of cancer is found to develop initially includes the arms and legs, as well as the pelvis and backbone.


Chordoma is a type of bone cancer that develops at the skull’s base and in the patient’s spine.

The growth rate of this cancer is quite slow.

Fortunately, Chordoma rarely spreads to other regions of the body.

In some cases, however, it can spread towards the lymph nodes, liver, and the lungs.


This type of bone cancer is also quite common amongst patients that have been diagnosed with cancer in their bones. Chondrosarcoma starts to develop in cartilage cells.

It usually originates from the shoulder, upper leg and pelvic regions.

It is important to note that, should bone cells that possess cancerous properties also be present, cancer may be diagnosed as osteosarcoma instead.

Apart from these types of bone cancers, others that are also somewhat common include giant cell tumor of bone, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, and fibrosarcoma.

Potential Causes And Risk Factors Of Bone Cancer

Risk Factors Of Bone Cancer

Firstly, medical experts have not yet been able to determine specific causes of bone cancer.

The American Cancer Society[10] reports that, in many cases, there are no risk factors or potential causes that can be detected in patients who have been diagnosed with bone cancer.

This often makes preventing the disease extremely difficult and even seem like an impossible trait at the moment.

Fortunately, certain risk factors have been identified that may increase a person’s risk of developing bone cancer – these do not, however, guarantee that a person will develop this type of cancer at some point in their lives.

At the moment, medical scientists are spending a significant amount of time conducting research regarding the connection between a patient’s DNA and bone cancer.

What is known at the moment is that particular changes in the DNA of a patient can affect the functionality of cells in their bones.

Two particular genes (subdivisions of a patient’s DNA) are often studied due to their part in the development of bone cancer – these include:


A group of genes that are responsible for the promotion of cell division.

Tumor Suppressor Genes

A group of genes that causes normal cells to die when they should die.

This particular group of genes also helps to slow down cell division to avoid cells from multiplying too quickly.

When any of these genes are mutated or contains a defect, then cells may divide too quickly.

This can cause cell malfunction and result in the development of a tumor in the bone.

Now, let’s consider the risk factors that medical scientist have been able to identify amongst patients with bone cancer, as reported by Cancer Research UK[11].


There are some age associations with bone cancer, but the age associations are different for most types of bone cancer.

For example, osteosarcoma is usually diagnosed in younger individuals, as well as in teenagers.

Ewing’s sarcoma is most often diagnosed in patients between the ages of 10 and 20.

Chordomas are most often diagnosed in older patients that have reached the age of 60.

Chondrosarcomas is usually diagnosed in patients between the ages of 35 and 40.



As we’ve discussed, certain DNA mutations can also be linked to a higher risk of bone cancer.

The particular inherited genetic factors that can contribute to this type of cancer include Down’s syndrome, Neurofibromatosis, Hereditary retinoblastoma, Hereditary multiple exostoses, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.


It was found that patients who are taller than what is considered “normal” for their gender and age seem to be at a higher risk of osteosarcoma.


It was also found that patients who were born at a weight that was heavier than what was considered “normal” for their particular gender are at a higher risk of developing osteosarcoma.


An interesting risk factor that was discovered by medical scientists is a hernia – but only a specific hernia at a particular time of the patient’s life.

They found that patients who were born with a congenital umbilical hernia have a 300% higher chance of being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma.


The ethnicity of a person also seems to play a role in the risk factors for bone cancer.

Medical experts found that white Americans are about 900% more likely to develop some types of bone cancer when compared to black Americans.

Bone Diseases

Certain bone diseases can also increase a patient’s risk of developing some bone cancers.

These bone diseases include Paget’s disease, Ollier’s disease, and Maffucci’s syndrome.

Benign Tumor

While a benign tumor is not cancerous and often not considered dangerous, it does seem to raise a person’s risk of developing a cancerous tumor.

What Were The Previous Cancer Treatment?

Patients who have previously been treated for and diagnosed with certain cancers are also at a significantly higher risk of being diagnosed with bone cancer in the future.

Radiotherapy is a particular treatment that increases the patient’s risk. Cancer in childhood also increases a patient’s risk.

Cervical cancer, rectal cancer anal cancer, and mouth cancer also seem to play a part in increasing the risk factor for bone cancer.

What Are The Symptoms of Bone Cancer?

Symptoms Of Bone Cancer

When it comes to identifying the symptoms of bone cancer, there is one major problem.

This is the fact that the symptoms of bone cancer can often be mistaken for symptoms of other diseases.

Amongst adults, bone cancer symptoms are often mistaken for the symptoms that are caused by arthritis; thus a patient may consider arthritis as the cause of the symptoms they are experiencing when, in reality, it is caused by bone cancer.

Amongst teenagers, these symptoms are often mistaken for growing pains, which is a common problem that teenagers face.

NHS Choices[12] report that bone pain seems to be the most prevalent symptom that people experience when they have bone cancer.

This is also the particular symptom that is mistaken for symptoms of other diseases in many cases.

It is important to understand that a cancerous tumor can develop in any bone throughout the body.

It is especially important to consider bone cancer as a potential cause and at least get some tests done to rule out this particular disease should bone pain be experienced in the upper arms and the legs.

Apart from bone pain, other symptoms may also develop.

Even though other symptoms do exist, patients should know that they do not necessarily develop when bone cancer is present.

Additional symptoms may include redness around the affected bone, as well as inflammation.

Bone cancer that is located close to a joint in the body may cause the patient to experience an impairment in the particular joint’s mobility.

Furthermore, some patients do notice a lump developing in the region where the tumor is developing.

How Is Bone Cancer Diagnosed?

Since bone cancer can mimic the symptoms of growing page and arthritis, it is vital to obtain a full physical examination from a licensed physician when the symptoms associated with this disease becomes present.

Even if the symptoms are not caused by bone cancer, it is always a good idea to rule out the possibility of this cancer.

Should a doctor suspect a tumor in the area where symptoms are experienced, then they may request additional tests to be conducted to determine whether a tumor has developed and, should a tumor be present, whether or not the tumor is cancerous.

Cancer.net[13] reports that the following tests can be requested by a physician to determine whether bone cancer may be present in a patient that exhibits symptoms related to this disease:

Blood Tests

Blood Test Sample

Blood samples can be taken and sent for inspection to a laboratory.

Medical scientists have noticed some traits in a patient’s blood when particular types of bone cancer are present.

For example, a high lactate dehydrogenase and alkaline phosphatase level may be a signal of Ewing sarcoma or osteosarcoma.

High levels of these substances do not mean the patient does have bone cancer; thus additional tests should be requested if these conditions are, indeed, met.

Bone Scans

A tracer substance can be injected into the patient’s blood circulatory system, which then collects in the bone.

A specialty camera is then used to scan the affected bones.

The camera relays the data to a screen.

While unharmed bones will appear gray on the screen, cancerous cells will appear darker.

Note that injury to bones also usually result in darker parts on the screen.


Radiation is used to compile an image that represents structures found in the patient’s body.

In addition to these tests, a biopsy may also be taken to determine whether a tumor is cancerous or benign.

Other tests may also include an MRI scan (Magnetic resonance imaging) and a PET scan (Positron emission tomography).

What Are The Treatment Bone Cancer?

Prior to discussing the treatment options that are available for patients with bone cancer, we do want patients to note that the treatment for this type of cancer is usually not performed by a single physician or specialist, but rather by a multidisciplinary team[14].

Such a team may include:

  • Physicians
  • Physician Assistants
  • Specialists
  • Pharmacists
  • Dietitians
  • Social Workers and Counselors
  • Oncology nurses

Other healthcare professionals may also be included in the multidisciplinary team.

To provide the patient with the best treatment option and to maximize their chance of survival, these professionals work together to determine the most appropriate treatment measures that would pose effectively for the particular patient.

The particular treatments that are made available to the patient to help destroy and remove the cancerous tumor and cells may include:


In some cases, surgery may be recommended to the patient.

Surgery would include the removal of the cancerous tumor, as well as some of the tissue that surrounds the cancerous tumor to ensure its cells have not spread towards other parts of the region.

In 90% of cases, this treatment yields successful results without the need to amputate a limb where the cancer was formed.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is another common option that is provided to a patient with bone cancer.

This treatment option utilizes special types of x-rays to destroy the cancerous cells in the patient’s bones.



This includes the utilization of drugs that have been specially formulated to destroy the cancerous cells that are present in the patient’s bones.

It is important that these medications be prescribed by a physician that specializes in chemotherapy, known as an oncologist.

The Outlook For Bone Cancers

As with any other type of cancer or potentially life-threatening disease, it is very important to consider the outlook for patients diagnosed with bone cancer.

Since this is a rare type of cancer, there is already only a very small chance that a particular patient may develop this cancer during their lifetime.

Still, knowing the potential outcome of cancer can help a patient realize what they should expect.

The American Cancer Society[15] reports that approximately 1,550 patients will pass away in 2017 due to bone cancer – this includes both primary and secondary bone cancer cases.

Since there will be around 3,260 new cases of this cancer diagnosed this year in the United States, the approximately death toll when the estimated death count is compared to the estimate diagnosis count is 47.55%.

This, however, does not mean that 1,550 of the 3,260 patients diagnosed with bone cancer in 2017 will die, but rather represents a number of total patients regardless of their diagnosis date.

The National Cancer Institute in the United States reports that, based on data they have collected since 1992, approximately 67.7% of all patients diagnosed with bone cancer is able to survive for at least five years after their initial diagnosis.


While bone cancer may not be the most prevalent type of cancer and has a high five-year survival rate, it is cancer that can cause painful symptoms.

Cancer can be primary or be caused by cancer cells that have spread from another part of the body towards the bones.

There are also different types of bone cancer, and understanding each of these individually is important to realize the symptoms associated with each type, which will ultimately make it easier to detect bone cancer for the general public.

In addition to assisting the general public with identifying symptoms related to specific types of bone cancer, other benefits of knowing each type’s characteristics, diagnosis and treatment is another important aspect to ensure the affected individual understands the options that are available to them, should they be diagnosed with this disease and, of course, help the affected person know which options may suit them better.

While cancers are often difficult to treat effectively, including bone cancer, new research that is being conducted is showcasing positive results during clinical trials that are executed on both laboratory mice and human subjects.

With better treatment options becoming available to the general public, the survival rate of this cancer may be affected in a positive manner throughout the upcoming years.

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