Bone Cancer Overview (cont.)

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What causes bone cancer?

As with other cancers, there is no one cause of bone cancer. In general, cancers arise when pathways that control normal cell growth and proliferation are 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 begin at certain times, often at night, or with physical activity and tends to worsen over time. Sometimes, the pain may be present for years before the affected person seeks treatment. Other cases of bone cancer are discovered incidentally when X-rays or imaging studies are performed for another reason. A mass, swelling, or lump is sometimes felt around the area of a bone cancer. Bone fractures may also occur at the site of the bone tumor (including benign tumors as well as cancers) because the underlying bone has weakened. Other less common symptoms can result from compression or disruption of nerves and blood vessels in the affected area. These symptoms may include numbness, tingling, tenderness, or a decrease in blood flow (coldness, weakened pulse).

What are the different types of bone cancer?

There are several different types of bone cancer that can affect different patient populations, and they are often treated differently. Knowing the precise type of bone cancer is important to develop a customized management and treatment plan for the specific patient. Some of the most common types of bone cancer are discussed in the following section.


Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer. Osteosarcoma occurs most commonly in teenagers and young adults (ages 10-19) and 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 femur (thighbone) or the proximal part of the tibia (shinbone). The next most common location is in the bone of the upper arm, but it is possible for an osteosarcoma to develop in any bone. Depending on the appearance of the tumor cells under the microscope, there are several different subtypes of osteosarcoma.


Chondrosarcoma is the second most common bone cancer. It arises from cartilage cells. It is more common in people older than 40 years of age. It may be either rapidly growing and aggressive or slow-growing. Chondrosarcoma is most commonly found in the bones of the hips and pelvis.

Ewing sarcoma

Ewing sarcomas, sometimes referred to as the Ewing sarcoma family of tumors (ESFTs), are 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 and are extremely rare in African-American children. 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 tumor formerly referred to as malignant fibrous histiocytoma or MFH. This term is still used frequently. Pleomorphic sarcomas are typically tumors of the soft tissues, but in up to 5% of cases they may arise in the bone. 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 in adults behind the knee.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/20/2015

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