This information has been prepared to help you understand more about primary bone cancer, also known as bone sarcoma. In this section we’ve used the term bone cancer. It includes basic information about how primary bone cancer is diagnosed and treated.
A typical healthy adult has over 200 bones, which:
The bones are made up of different parts, including a hard outer layer (cortical bone) and a spongy inner core (trabecular bone). Cartilage is the tough material at the end of each bone that allows one bone to move against another. These are called joints.
Bone cancer can be either primary bone cancer or secondary bone cancer. The two types of bone cancer are quite different. This fact sheet is only about primary bone cancer (bone sarcoma).
Primary bone cancer is cancer that starts in the bones. It may develop on the surface of the bone, in the outer layer or from the centre of the bone. As a tumour grows, cancer cells multiply and destroy the bone. If left untreated, primary bone cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Secondary (metastatic) bone cancer means a cancer that started in another part of the body, such as the breasts, lungs or prostate, and has spread to the bones.
Bone cancer is rare. About 195 Australians are diagnosed with primary bone cancer each year.
Bone cancer affects people of all ages, and it is slightly more common in males than females. If it develops later in life, it may be linked to another bone disease, such as Paget’s disease, which causes enlarged and deformed bones.
Secondary bone cancer is more common than primary bone cancer, and is treated differently.
There are more than 30 types of primary bone cancer. The most common types include:
Some types of cancer affect the soft tissues around the bones. These are known as soft tissue sarcomas and may be treated differently. For more details, talk to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
The causes of most bone cancers are unknown, but some factors that increase the risk include:
Radiotherapy to treat cancer increases the risk of developing bone cancer in the future. The risk is higher for people who have had high doses of radiotherapy at a young age. Most people who have had radiotherapy will not develop bone cancer.
Some people who have had Paget’s disease of the bone, fibrous dysplasia or multiple enchondromas are at higher risk of bone cancer. Some studies also suggest that people who have had soft tissue sarcoma are at an increased risk of developing bone cancer.
Some inherited conditions such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome increase the risk of bone cancer. People with a strong family history of certain other types of cancer are also at risk. Talk to a family cancer centre (also known as Clinical Genetics or Familial Cancer Service) for more information.
Some people develop bone cancer due to genetic changes that happen during their lifetime, rather than inheriting a faulty gene.
The most common symptom of bone cancer is strong pain in the bones and joints. The pain gradually becomes constant and does not improve with mild pain medication such as paracetamol. It may be worse at night or during activity.
Other symptoms can include:
Most people who have these symptoms do not have bone cancer. However, if you have symptoms for more than two weeks, you should see your general practitioner (GP).
If you are experiencing symptoms that could be caused by bone cancer, your doctor will arrange some tests, including:
|Grading describes how quickly a cancer might grow.|
|low grade||the cancer cells look similar to normal bone cells, are usually slow-growing and are less likely to spread|
|high grade||the cancer cells look very abnormal and grow quickly, and are more likely to spread|
|Staging describes how far the cancer has spread. Knowing the stage helps doctors plan the most suitable treatment for you. The stages of bone cancer are also based on the grade of the cancer.|
|Stage 1||the cancer contains low-grade cells, and there is no spread beyond the bone|
|Stage 2||the cancer contains high-grade cells, and there is no spread beyond the bone|
|Stage 3||the cancer is any grade, and has spread to other parts of the body|