What are the symptoms and causes of bone cancer?

Around 550 cases of primary bone cancer – a cancer that begins in the bones – are diagnosed in the UK each year

Ellie Muir
Monday 24 April 2023 11:18 BST
<p>Yellow ribbon for sarcoma awareness</p>

Yellow ribbon for sarcoma awareness

Bone cancer is a rare type of cancer that begins in the bones.

The NHS recognises two main overarching categories of bone cancer: primary and secondary.

When a person has primary bone cancer, the cancer cells are bone cells that have become cancerous. According to the NHS, around 550 cases of primary bone cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK.

Secondary bone cancer, which is more common, is when cancer cells have spread into the bone from cancer in another part of the body. This is also known as metastatic bone cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms of primary bone cancer?

Bone cancer can affect any bone, but most cases develop in the long bones of the legs and upper arms.

The main symptoms include persistent bone pain that gets worse, swelling and redness over a bone, a noticeable lump over a bone, a bone that breaks or fractures more easily than normal, and problems with moving around.

What are the types of bone cancer?

The most common type of bone cancer, called osteosarcoma, mostly affects children and young adults under 20.

Ewing sarcoma is another main type of bone cancer, which most commonly affects people aged between 10 and 20. Young people can be affected during rapid growth spurts that occur in puberty and may make bone tumours develop. Sarcoma awareness month is observed every July and marked by a yellow ribbon.

Chondrosarcoma, another common type of cancer, tends to affect adults aged over 40.

What are the causes of bone cancer?

It’s usually unknown why a person develops bone cancer, but a person could be more at risk of developing it if you have had previous exposure to radiation during radiotherapy, according to the NHS.

Other conditions such as Paget’s disease of the bone and a rare genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome is also cited as potential causes of bone cancer by the NHS.

Treatment for bone cancer depends on the type a person has and how far in the body it has spread.

Most people will undergo treatment to remove the section of cancerous bone, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

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