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Bone Cancer

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What is Bone Cancer?

Bone cancer is an uncommon cancer that begins in a bone. Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body, but it most commonly affects the long bones that make up the arms and legs.

Several types of bone cancer exist. Some types of bone cancer occur primarily in children, while others affect mostly adults.

The term “bone cancer” doesn’t include cancers that begin elsewhere in the body and spread (metastasize) to the bone. Instead, those cancers are named for where they began, such as breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone. A bone cancer diagnosis also does not include blood cell cancers, such as multiple myeloma and leukemia, that begin in the bone marrow — the jelly-like material inside the bone where blood cells are made.

Common types of primary bone cancer include the following

  • Osteosarcoma, which arises from osteoid tissue in the bone. This tumor occurs most often in the knee and upper arm.
  • Chondrosarcoma, which begins in cartilaginous tissue. Cartilage pads the ends of bones and lines the joints. Chondrosarcoma occurs most often in the pelvis (located between the hip bones), upper leg, and shoulder. Sometimes a chondrosarcoma contains cancerous bone cells. In that case, doctors classify the tumor as an osteosarcoma.
  • The Ewing Sarcoma Family of Tumors (ESFTs), which usually occur in bone but may also arise in soft tissue (muscle, fat, fibrous tissue, blood vessels, or other supporting tissue). Scientists think that ESFTs arise from elements of primitive nerve tissue in the bone or soft tissue. ESFTs occur most commonly along the backbone and pelvis and in the legs and arms.

Other types of cancer that arise in soft tissue are called soft tissue sarcomas. They are not bone cancers and are not described here.
>To understand the signs and symptoms of bone cancer, click here

Bone Cancer Treatment

Treatment options for bone cancer are based on the type of cancer you have, the stage of the cancer, your overall health and your preferences. Bone cancer treatment typically involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of treatments.

What Causes Bone Cancer?

Although bone cancer does not have a clearly defined cause, researchers have identified several factors that increase the likelihood of developing these tumors. Osteosarcoma occurs more frequently in people who have had high-dose external radiation therapy or treatment with certain anticancer drugs; children seem to be particularly susceptible. A small number of bone cancers are due to heredity. For example, children who have had hereditary retinoblastoma (an uncommon cancer of the eye) are at a higher risk of developing osteosarcoma, particularly if they are treated with radiation. Additionally, people who have hereditary defects of bones and people with metal implants, which doctors sometimes use to repair fractures, are more likely to develop osteosarcoma. Ewing sarcoma is not strongly associated with any heredity cancer syndromes, congenital childhood diseases, or previous radiation exposure.

Reliable Resources:

Memorial Sloan Kettering
The MSK website has pages of detailed information about the disease, diagnosis and treatment. Check all the categories in the upper right hand list.

The National Cancer Institute
The US government site for cancer information.

The Sarcoma Foundation
A Cancer charity dedicated to sarcoma research and funding.

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