Bone cancer begins in a person's bones but may spread to other parts of the body, called metastasis. In other cases, a cancer starting elsewhere in the body may spread to the bones.
Benign bone tumours
Benign tumours are more common than cancer of the bones. These are a few common types of benign bone tumours:
- Non-ossifying fibroma is a single bone tumour found mostly in the long bones of children. It does not usually cause symptoms.
- Osteochondroma is a tumour in areas of bone and cartilage, more common in people under age 20.
- Giant cell tumour is a benign tumour, typically affecting the leg (malignant types of this tumour are uncommon).
- Osteoid osteoma is a bone tumour, often occurring in long bones, that occurs commonly in the early 20s.
- Osteoblastoma is a single tumour that occurs in the spine and long bones, mostly in young adults.
When people have cancer in bones, it is often cancer that has spread there from elsewhere in the body. This is metastatic cancer. Even though it spreads to bone, it still acts and looks like the primary cancer.
Cancers that commonly spread to bone include:
Primary bone cancer
Primary bone cancer is cancer that forms first in bone. It is less common than metastatic cancer.
There are around 600 cases of primary bone cancer in the UK each year.
The cause of bone cancer is not certain, but heredity may play a role. Also, high-dose radiotherapy or anticancer drugs may increase the risk of this type of cancer. These are some of the most common types of bone cancer:
- Osteosarcoma begins in bone cells and is most common in the thigh, shin and other larger bones. Most of the time, it is found in teenagers and young adults.
- Ewing's sarcoma also shows up in younger people between the ages of 10 and 20. Ribs, pelvis, leg, and upper arm are the most common sites. It usually shows up in bone, but can also start in soft tissue around bones.
- Chondrosarcoma occurs most often in people between 40 and 50. The ribs, pelvis, leg, arm, and shoulder are more common sites of this cancer, which begins in cartilage cells.
- Chordoma is a tumour of the skull and bones of the spine. More common in adults over age 40, it tends to grow slowly and is less likely than other tumours to spread.
- Spindle cell sarcoma is a tumour that is similar to osteosarcoma but affects adults over 40.
Although almost always found in bone, multiple myeloma is not a primary bone cancer. It is a bone marrow cancer. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside bones.
Symptoms of bone tumours
You may have no symptoms of a bone tumour, other than a mass in a bone. This is common. Your doctor may find a tumour when looking at an x-ray of another problem, such as a sprain. But symptoms of a bone tumour may include pain that:
- Is in the area of the tumour
- Is often felt as dull or achy
- May get worse with activity
- Often awakens people at night