Primary bone cancer is a tumour that starts growing inside a bone, as opposed to secondary bone cancer which is when cancer spreads from another part of the body into surrounding bone.
The most common symptom of bone cancer is bone pain that usually gets worse over time and can feel more painful during the night time.
Read more about the symptoms of bone cancer.
If you or your child is experiencing persistent bone pain that lasts for more than three days, visit your GP. While it is highly unlikely to be the result of bone cancer it does require further investigation.
Types of bone cancer
All types of bone cancer are very rare. The four most common types (although still very rare in general terms) are described below.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer, with an estimated 150 cases a year in the UK. Most cases develop in children and young people who are between the ages of 5 and 20, making it the third most common cancer in young people (after leukaemia and brain tumours).
Osteosarcoma usually develops in the larger bones, such as the thigh bone (femur) or the shin bone (tibia).
Each year, in the UK, there are an estimated 100 cases of Ewing's sarcoma. Ewing's sarcoma usually develops in children and young people aged between 10 and 20, although 1 in 10 cases develop in people who are over 20.
Ewing's sarcoma usually develops in the pelvis, thigh bone or shin bone.
There are an estimated 80 cases of chondrosarcoma in the UK each year. This type of bone cancer usually develops in adults who are between the ages of 40 and 50.
The most common sites for chondrosarcoma to develop are the pelvis, thigh bone, upper arm bone, shoulder blade (scapula) and the ribs.
Spindle cell sarcoma
There are an estimated 80 cases of spindle cell sarcoma every year. Spindle cell sarcoma is very similar to osterosarcoma in terms of its symptoms and treatment, but it affects older adults aged 40 or over.
The treatment plan for most cases of bone cancer is to use a course of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour and then use surgery to remove the affected area of bone.
In the past this often meant that a section of a limb, such as the lower leg, had to be surgically removed (in an amputation), but today it is often possible to retain the limb by replacing the affected bone with a metal implant . This is known as limb-sparing surgery.
Read more about the treating bone cancer.
The reason why a small minority of people develop bone cancer is still unclear.
Known risk factors include:
- previous exposure to radiation, such as radiotherapy
- a condition known as Paget’s disease of the bone, where the normal cycle of bone growth is disrupted – however, less than 1% of people with Paget’s disease will actually develop bone cancer
Read more about the causes of bone cancer.
One important factor in determining the likely outlook for cases of bone cancer is whether the cancer has spread from the bone to other parts of the body. It is easier to achieve a cure if the cancer has not spread (known as localised bone cancer). If it has spread (most commonly to the lungs or bone marrow), it can be harder to treat. This is known as metastatic bone cancer.
Read more about the outlook for people with bone cancer.