Bone Cancer

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What is bone cancer? What is metastatic bone cancer?

Bone cancer is a cancer that arises from the cells that make up the bones of the body. When cancer is detected in bones, it either originated in the bones (primary bone cancer) or has spread to the bone after originating elsewhere. In fact, when cancer is detected in bone, it most often has started in another organ or somewhere else and then spread to the bones. This is known as cancer that has metastasized to the bone and is actually named for the site where the original cancer began (for example, metastatic colon cancer that has spread to the bone). Less commonly, cancer can begin within the bone as primary bone cancer. Primary and metastatic bone cancers are often treated differently and have a different prognosis.

There are other cancers that may begin in the bone even though they are not considered to be true bone cancers. Lymphoma is a cancer of the cells that are responsible for the immune response of the body. Lymphoma usually begins in the lymph nodes, but it sometimes begins in the bone marrow. Multiple myeloma is another cancer of the immune cells that typically begins in the bone marrow. These tumors are not considered primary bone cancers because they do not arise from the actual bone cells.

This article focuses on primary bone cancer, which is cancer of the bone cells themselves.

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What are risk factors for bone cancer?

About 2,300 cases of bone cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Primary bone cancers are not common and account for far less than 1% of all cancers. Bone cancers are more common in children and younger adults than in older people. Cancer found in the bones of an older adult usually has spread to the bone after originating from another location in the body.

Risk factors for bone cancers include the following:

  • Previous treatment with radiation therapy
  • Previous chemotherapy with drugs known as alkylating agents
  • Mutation in a gene known as the retinoblastoma (Rb) gene or other genes
  • Associated conditions, such as hereditary retinoblastoma, Paget's disease of bone, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and Diamond-Blackfan anemia
  • Implantation of metal to repair previous fractures
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015

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Early Bone Cancer Symptoms

Whether the cancer in bone is primary or metastatic, the early symptoms vary from no symptoms at all to severe bone pain. It is very common for cancer in bone to not cause any symptoms. This form of cancer can only be detected using imaging tests, such as X-ray tests, computerized tomography (CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).