Bone Cancer

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What is bone cancer? What is metastatic bone cancer?

Bone cancer is a cancer of the 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 spread to the bones. This is known as metastatic cancer of the bones. It is much more common than true, or primary, bone cancer, where the bone cells themselves become malignant. Primary and metastatic bone cancers are often treated differently and may 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 involved in the immune response. 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 to be primary bone cancers because they do not arise from bone cells.

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

Who is at risk for bone cancer?

Each year, around 3,000 cases of cancer of the bones and joints are diagnosed in the U.S. Primary bone cancers are not common and make up less than 0.2% of all cancers. Bone cancers are more common in young adults and children than in older people. Cancer found in the bones of an older adult most likely is 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
  • Associated conditions, such as hereditary retinoblastoma, Paget's disease of bone, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Diamond-Blackfan anemia
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/4/2014

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Learn about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of bone cancer.

What Is Bone Cancer?

Cancers can be discovered in bones in a number of different circumstances. When cancer is located in the bones, it is important to differentiate whether this cancer has spread from another site to the bones or whether the cancer originated in the bone tissue itself. This distinction is important not only for the sake of correct terminology, but also to accurately determine which treatment options are appropriate.

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