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.

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

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

What causes bone cancer?

As with other cancers, there is no one cause of bone cancer. In general, cancers arise when normal cell growth and proliferation is disrupted, allowing abnormal cells to divide and grow uncontrollably. A number of hereditary and environmental factors are likely involved in the development of bone cancers.

What are bone cancer symptoms and signs?

Pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer. The pain may initially develop at certain times of the day, often at night, or with physical activity. The pain tends to progress and worsen over time. Sometimes, the pain may be present for years before the affected person seeks treatment. Sometimes bone cancer is detected incidentally when X-rays or imaging studies are performed for another reason. Occasionally, a mass, swelling, or lump is felt around the area of a bone cancer. Bone fractures can also occur at the site of bone cancer because the underlying bone structure has weakened. Less commonly symptoms are caused by compression or disruption of nerves and blood vessels in the affected area. These symptoms can include numbness, tingling, tenderness, or a decrease in blood flow beyond the site of the tumor, causing a cold hand or foot with weak or absent pulses.

What are the different types of bone cancer?

There are several different types of bone cancer, and they are often treated differently. Knowing the precise type of bone cancer is essential for developing an optimal treatment plan. Some of the most common types of bone cancer are as follows.


Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer. Osteosarcoma occurs most commonly in older children, teenagers, and young adults (10-19 years of age), and it is more common in males. Osteosarcoma in young people tends to develop at the ends of long bones in areas of active bone growth, often around the knee, either at the end of the thighbone (femur) or the shinbone (tibia) near the knee. The next most common location for bone cancer is in the bone of the arm (humerus). Nevertheless, it is possible for an osteosarcoma to develop in any bone. Depending on the appearance of the tumor cells under the microscope, there are also several different subtypes of osteosarcoma.


Chondrosarcoma is the second most common bone cancer. It arises from cartilage cells that are attached to or cover bone. It is more common in people older than 40 years of age, and less than 5% of these cancers occur in people under 20 years of age. It may either grow rapidly and aggressively or grow slowly. Chondrosarcoma is most commonly found in the bones of the hips and pelvis.

Ewing sarcoma

Ewing sarcoma, sometimes referred to as the Ewing sarcoma family of tumors (ESFTs), is an aggressive form of bone cancer that is most common in children 4-15 years of age. It can occur either in the bones or in the soft tissues and is believed to arise from primitive nerve tissue. ESFTs are more common in males than in females. The most common location for Ewing sarcoma is the middle portion of the long bones of the arms and legs.

Pleomorphic sarcoma (malignant fibrous histiocytoma) of bone

Pleomorphic sarcoma is a cancer formerly referred to as malignant fibrous histiocytoma or MFH. This term is still used frequently. Pleomorphic sarcomas are typically not cancers of bone but of soft tissues. However, they may arise in the bone in up to 5% of cases. Pleomorphic sarcomas typically occur in adults and can be found anywhere in the body.


Fibrosarcoma is an uncommon type of bone cancer. It is most commonly arises behind the knee in adults.


Chordoma is a very rare cancer usually seen in people over 30 years of age. It is most commonly located in either the lower or upper ends of the spinal column.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015

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