Bone Cancer

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What is bone cancer? What is metastatic bone cancer?

Bone cancer is a cancer that arises from the different cells that make up the bones of the body. When cancer is found in bones, it has usually started in another organ or another location in the body and has secondarily spread to the bones. This is known as metastatic cancer and is named for the site where the original cancer began (for example, metastatic colon cancer) and is not a primary bone cancer. Metatstaic cancer to bone is much more common than primary bone cancer, in which the bone cells themselves become malignant. 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 bone cells.

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

Who is at risk 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 accoount for far less than 1% of all cancers. Bone cancers are more common in children and younger adults in older people. Cancer found in the bones of an older adult is more likely metastatic from another location in the body.

Risk factors have been identified for the development of certain bone cancers. Risk factors 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 is a potential risk factor for developing osteosarcoma
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/5/2015

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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).