Cancer can start in any part of any bone. This page describes cancer that develops in the bone, as opposed to cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the bone from elsewhere, or that has started in bone marrow.
Common forms of bone cancer
- Ewing sarcoma usually develops in the leg, pelvis, rib, arm, or spine. Ewing sarcoma accounts for 34% of primary bone cancer in children and young adults and 8% of primary bone cancer in adults. It can also develop in soft tissue.
- Osteosarcoma usually develops in bones around the knee joint (femur, tibia) or in the upper arm bone close to the shoulder (humerus). However, it can develop in any bone in the body. Osteosarcoma accounts for 56% of primary bone cancer in children and young adults and 28% of primary bone cancer in adults. It develops from immature bone cells that normally form new bone tissue.
- Chondrosarcoma is cancer of the cartilage and accounts for more than 40% of primary bone cancers in adults.
- Chordoma usually starts in the lower spinal cord and accounts for 10% of primary bone cancers in adults.
Additional forms of bone cancer are less common.
Risk factors of bone cancer
- Genetics. Some osteosarcomas may be hereditary. Also, some hereditary non-cancerous conditions (e.g., Paget disease) can develop into bone cancer.
- Previous radiation therapy, especially when one is younger or was treated with higher doses of radiation. Exposure to radioactive materials such as radium and strontium also increases risk.
- Chemotherapy for another cancer.
- Benign tumors or other bone conditions.
- Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.
Note: Non-ionizing radiation, like microwaves, electromagnetic fields from power lines, cellular phones, and household appliances, does not increase bone cancer risk.
Symptoms of bone cancer
- Pain and swelling at the tumor site. Pain can begin as intermittent and then become steady. It can also worsen with movement. Swelling may occur in nearby soft tissue.
- Joint swelling and stiffness, decreasing range of movement.
- Limping. This is usually a symptom of later-stage bone cancer and occurs when a leg bone with a tumor breaks.
Other, less common symptoms include fever, generally feeling unwell, weight loss, and anemia.
How is bone cancer treated with radiation?
Radiation therapy is usually given to patients who have a tumor that cannot be removed with surgery. Radiation may also be given before surgery to shrink the tumor, or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
By shrinking the tumor, radiation therapy can allow for less extensive surgery, often preserving the arm or leg. Radiation therapy may also be used to relieve pain as part of palliative care.
More extensive information about bone and other cancers may be found at these sites:
American Cancer Society: Cancer.org
American Society of Clinical Oncology: Cancer.net
National Cancer Institute: Cancer.gov