Learn more about the different types of bone cancer
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Understanding the Different Types of Bone Cancer

Bone cancer refers to a tumor on a bone that destroys the bone tissue. There are two main categories of bone cancer:

  • Primary bone cancer, when a tumor originates in the bone tissue, is a rare disease that comprises less than 1 percent of cancer diagnoses, according to the National Cancer Institute.
  • Metastatic bone cancer is when cancer from another place in your body spreads to the bone.

Learn more about cancer care and the experts at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Types of Bone Cancer

The three most common types of primary bone cancer are:

  1. Osteosarcoma: This cancer develops out of the bone itself, and mainly affects children and teens. Most often seen in the arms and legs, it also can occur in the pelvis.
  2. Ewing’s sarcoma: This type of bone cancer typically is found in school-age children or teens. Tumors may develop along the backbone, pelvis, arms, or legs. Ewing’s sarcoma rarely appears in the soft tissue.
  3. Chondrosarcoma: This type begins in cartilage tissue and mainly affects older patients. It can occur anywhere in the skeleton, but is most often found in the pelvis or extremities.

Causes of Bone Cancer

Although the causes of bone cancer aren’t well known, genetics and radiation exposure may play a role. A history of cancer, Paget’s disease, or certain genetic syndromes also may raise your risk of developing bone cancer.

Bone Cancer Symptoms

Exact symptoms vary among bone cancer types. The location and size of the tumor affect the symptoms you may experience, but the following warning signs are most common:

  • Dull ache in the affected bone
  • Pain when at rest or at night
  • Swelling or a lump
  • Severe, deep bone pain
  • Bone fractures

These symptoms can mimic other diseases or infections, so it’s important to be examined by a trained medical professional. A doctor will perform a physical exam and may order diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, MRI, or biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

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Treatment Options for Bone Cancer

Your doctor will develop an individualized treatment plan that’s based on the identity of your tumor. Radiation and chemotherapy may be needed to kill cancer cells. Surgery to remove the cancerous soft tissue or bone tumor, as well as nearby tissue (in some cases) may be part of your treatment plan.

Treatment for anyone with bone cancer is highly tailored, particularly for cancers in sensitive locations such as the spine. Your doctor will make every effort to avoid amputation; more than  90 percent of patients with extremity bone tumors do not require amputation.