Bone cancer

November 12, 2012

Bone cancer

Bone cancer is considered fairly rare with around 500 diagnosed cases every year in the UK. There are different kinds of bone cancer with different causes, symptoms and treatments.


Bone cancer can be separated into categories; primary and secondary bone cancer. The primary version refers to the disease when it began in the bone cells whereas secondary cancer started in another part of the body but spread to the bones. Primary bone cancer examples include steosarcoma, ewing sarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma and chondrosarcoma. It has been estimated that bone cancer account for 1 in every 500 diagnosed cases of cancer making this form of cancer relatively rare.

Signs and symptoms

One of the initial symptoms of bone cancer is pain in the affected area that gradually gets worse and more persistent. The pain usually begins as a very subtle feeling that normally isn’t severe enough to seek medical attention for a number of months. The speed in which the pain gets worse depends on the type of bone cancer with Ewing sarcoma being one of the more aggressive conditions. Pain due to bone cancer is often described as a deep achy feeling that becomes harder and harder to relieve. Some further symptoms include:

  • Swelling in or around the affected area

  • Weakened bones which can increase the risk of fracture

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • A lump that can be felt in the affected area

  • Fever, chills or night sweats are a less common symptom


The direct cause of bone cancer has not yet been identified but that are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing bone cancer in some people:

  • Children and adolescents are the most commonly affected age group

  • Individual’s who have previously received radiation therapy

  • Those with a history of Paget’s disease

  • Children with hereditary renoblastoma (an eye cancer that affects young children)

  • Individual’s with Li-Fraumeni syndrome

  • Babies that were born with an umbilical hernia

  • Individual’s with a close relative who has or has had bone cancer


There are a number of options of treatment for bone cancer with the most effective method depending on the type, location and progression of the cancer.

  • Surgery

Surgery is performed with the intention of removing as much of the tumour as possible if not all of it. If any of the tumour is left behind it has the potential to re-grow and continue to spread. If a large amount of bone had to be removed, the surgeon may do a bone graft to replace it with bone from another part of the body. In some cases this is not possible and limb amputation may be necessary.

  • Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is used to treat around 40% of all types of cancer and uses high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used as a cure but can also be used to alleviate symptoms in advanced cases and can also be used in conjunction with another form of treatment such as after surgery or in combination with chemotherapy.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses powerful chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Similarly to radiation therapy, chemo can be used for a number of purposes including to cure the patient, to relieve symptoms, to prevent recurrence of the bone cancer and to slow down progression.

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