x-ray bone

What Is Bone Cancer?

Types of Bone Cancer

Cancerous bone tumors can be divided into two categories.

  • Primary bone cancer – considered rare and starts inside your bone. It most commonly affects the bones in your leg or arm.
  • Secondary bone cancer – occurs more regularly, when cancer spreads from another part of your body to the bone.

Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment associated with these different types of bone cancer.

Bone Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

The causes of bone cancer are unknown; however, a few possible causes are genetics and radiation treatment. There are also certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing bone cancer, as well as risk factors for specific types of bone cancer.

Other risk factors for bone cancer include:

  • Prior history cancer of breast, lung, prostate, kidney, thyroid
  • Paget’s disease, a noncancerous bone condition

Bone Cancer Symptoms

The most common symptom of bone cancer is a dull ache in the affected bone that may worsen at night or when the bone is used. Eventually, as the cancer grows, the pain will become constant. If your leg is involved, you may begin to limp.

Other more common bone cancer symptoms include:

  • Pain at rest
  • Swelling or a lump at the location of the tumor
  • Deep bone pain severe enough to wake you up
  • Bone fractures

Some symptoms depend on the size and location of the tumor. For example, tumors in the spine can lead to numbness or tingling. Cancer can also cause you to lose weight and feel overly tired.

If you experience any of these symptoms for a long time without a known reason, you should consult with a physician.

Bone Cancer Diagnosis

A physician may suspect you have bone cancer after conducting a physical exam, listening to your symptoms, and viewing imaging results. But other diseases and infections can mimic bone cancer, so it is typically confirmed through a biopsy — an examination of tissue or cells under a microscope.

Bone Cancer Treatment Options

If you are diagnosed with bone cancer you may not need surgery. The first step after diagnosis is to determine if the cancer has spread and to what extent.

A customized treatment plan will then be developed, depending on the type, stage, and location of the cancer, as well as your overall health. This plan could include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and/or surgery.

The UPMC Musculoskeletal Oncology program uses the latest techniques to diagnose and treat cancerous and noncancerous bone and soft tissue tumors. For more information, visit our website online or call 412-802-4100.