Bone Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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).

Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

What is bone cancer? What is metastatic bone cancer?

Bone cancer is a malignant tumor that arises from the cells that make up the bones of the body. This is also known as primary bone cancer. When cancer is detected in bones, it either originated in the bones (as in primary bone cancer) or has spread to the bone after originating elsewhere (cancer that has metastasized to bone). 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 cancer that has metastasized to the bone is named for the site where the original cancer began (for example, metastatic prostate cancer that has spread to the bone). Breast, prostate, and lung cancers are among the types of cancers that commonly spread to the bone in their advanced stages. Less commonly, cancer can begin within the bone as primary bone cancer, and this is true bone cancer. Primary and metastatic bone cancers are often treated differently and have a different prognosis. It is also important to note that benign (non-cancerous) tumors can also arise in the bones, and these benign tumors are more common than bone cancers.

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.

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:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2016

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