Bone cancer

Bone cancer that begins in the bones is a rare cancer. This is different from bone cancer that spreads to the bones after developing elsewhere in the body (not covered on this page). See your GP if you or your child are experiencing persistent, severe or worsening bone pain.

Symptoms of bone cancer

Bone cancer can affect any bone, but most cases develop in the long bones of the legs or upper arms.

The main symptoms include:

  • persistent bone pain that gets worse over time and continues into the night
  • swelling and redness (inflammation) over a bone, which can make movement difficult if the affected bone is near a joint
  • a noticeable lump over a bone
  • a weak bone that breaks (fractures) more easily than normal

When to see your GP

If you or your child are experiencing persistent, severe or worsening bone pain, see your GP. While it's unlikely to be the result of bone cancer, it does require further investigation.

Causes of bone cancer

In most cases, it's not known why a person develops bone cancer.

You're more at risk of developing it if you:

  • have had previous exposure to radiation during radiotherapy
  • have a condition known as Paget’s disease of the bone – however, only a very small number of people with Paget’s disease will actually develop bone cancer
  • have a rare genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome – people with this condition have a faulty version of a gene that normally helps stop the growth of cancerous cells

Treatment for bone cancer

Treatment for bone cancer depends on the type of bone cancer you have and how far it has spread.

If you are diagnosed with bone cancer, your hospital consultant will discuss the most appropriate treatment options with you.

Most people have a combination of:

  • surgery to remove the section of cancerous bone – it's often possible to reconstruct or replace the bone that's been removed, but amputation is sometimes necessary
  • chemotherapy – treatment with powerful cancer-killing medication
  • radiotherapy – where radiation is used to destroy cancerous cells

The different types of bone cancer arise from the different types of cells in the skeletal system. The treatment and outlook will depend on the type of bone cancer you have.

Outlook

The outlook for bone cancer depends on factors such as:

  • your age
  • the type of bone cancer you have
  • how far the cancer has spread when it is diagnosed (the stage)
  • how likely it is to spread further (the grade)

Generally, bone cancer is much easier to cure in otherwise healthy people whose cancer hasn't spread.

Overall, around 6 in every 10 people with bone cancer will live for at least 5 years from the time of their diagnosis, and many of these may be cured completely.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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