What is Bone Cancer?

By definition, cancer is a condition caused by abnormal cells that grow beyond control. The same holds true for bone cancer. Although bone cancer is not very common, the most common kind of bone cancer is called a bone sarcoma. Osteosarcoma or osteogenic sarcoma is a kind of bone cancer that may show up in the bone, muscle, blood vessels, fatty tissue inside the bone, and other areas.

Other bone cancers include:

  • Ewing tumor, or Ewing sarcoma
  • Chondrosarcoma
  • High-grade undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (UPS) of bone
  • Fibrosarcoma of bone
  • Giant cell tumor of bone
  • Chordoma

Sometimes, tumors can develop in the bones but are not harmful because they do not cause cancer. These are called “benign” cancers. Some examples are:

  • Osteoblastoma
  • Osteochondroma
  • Enchondroma
  • Osteoid osteoma
  • Chondromyxoid fibroma

What are symptoms of bone cancer?

Most of the symptoms of bone cancer are, not surprisingly, related to the bone or joint that has the cancer. Perhaps you notice a pain where the cancer is located that comes and goes—at first. Then, after a while, the pain sticks around—over-the-counter painkillers don’t seem to help. You might even find that the pain gets worse when moving or exercising or at night.

However, pain isn’t the only symptom or sign of bone cancer. You might also have:

  • Swelling around the area where the bone cancer appears
  • A bone that feels stiff, tender, or numb
  • Having trouble moving around. Perhaps you walk with a limp or have lost full range of motion
  • A broken bone not caused by a blow or physical trauma
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Feeling tired

How is bone cancer diagnosed and treated?

Because bone cancer tends to share symptoms with many other health conditions, it can be a little tricky to diagnose. So, your doctor may order some of the following tests after taking your medical history and conducting a physical exam. These may include:

  • X-rays are a kind of radiation that uses electromagnetic waves to create images—mainly of bones and joints.
  • Blood tests are ordered by doctors to check for cell counts that are abnormally high or abnormally low. Examples include low red blood cell counts and higher-than-normal of white blood cells.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan is a diagnostic procedure that created detailed images of organs and tissue inside the body.
  • PET scan uses radioactive products to see various activities in the body such as blood flow and how the body carries out various chemical reactions.
  • MRI scan Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a procedure that uses a combination of radio waves and magnetic fields to create images of organs and tissue inside the body.
  • Bone Biopsy is a procedure in which doctors remove a piece of tissue from the affected area and sending it to a lab to see if the tissue is cancerous.

Sometimes, treating bone cancer might means you undergo surgery to remove the cancer for your affected limb—and 90% of people with bone cancer receive this treatment. This might include removing some of the surrounding tissue and bone. In more severe cases where the cancer occurs in the arms or legs, a surgeon may have to remove part of the limb. Cancers of the pelvis, jaw, cheekbone, spine and skull have other treatment options.

Regardless of whether you have surgery, you might also receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy (radiation).