Bone Cancer

Bone cancer at a glance

    • Bone cancer occurs when cells in a bone divide out of control, which can cause malignant (cancerous) tumors that destroy healthy bone tissue.
    • Children and teens are most likely to develop bone cancer.
    • Hereditary conditions often contribute to the development of bone cancer.
    • Bone cancer is typically accompanied by severe pain around the area of the tumor(s).
    • We offer CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery to treat bone cancer patients.

What is bone cancer?

Bone cancer occurs when cells in the bone become cancerous, creating malignant tumors that destroy healthy bone tissue. When the cancer originates in the bone tissue, it is called primary bone cancer.

But most of the time when cancer is present in the bone, it has metastasized (spread) from other organs in the body. Even though it is in the bone, it is named by the organ in which the tumors originated. So one can have lung cancer that has spread to the bone. The information here deals with primary bone cancer.

Much like other types of tumors, not all bone tumors are malignant. Benign (noncancerous) tumors can also develop in the bones. Both benign and malignant tumors can interfere with healthy bone tissue. The difference between the two is that malignant tumors spread, destroy bone tissue and can threaten a person’s overall health, while benign tumors do not.

Bone cancer can occur in a variety of components of the bone. Bones are made up of osteoid tissue (hard and compact), cartilaginous tissue (tough but flexible), fibrous tissue (threadlike) and bone marrow (soft, spongy tissue that is found in the center of most bones).

Types of primary bone cancer include:

  • Osteosarcoma develops in osteoid tissue. It is most commonly found around the knee and upper arm. Osteosarcoma often affects teens and young adults. In fact, there is a separate form of this tumor specifically found in adults with pre-existing diseases of the bone, including Paget’s disease (abnormal development of new bone cells).
  • Chondrosarcoma arises in the cartilaginous tissue. It is most commonly found in the hip, pelvis, leg, arm and shoulder. Adults between the ages of 40 and 70 are most likely to be affected by chondrosarcoma.
  • The Ewing sarcoma family of tumors (ESFTs) usually occurs in the bone, but often spreads to surrounding soft tissue (blood vessels, fat, muscles). ESFTs are most commonly seen in the ribs, pelvic area, leg and upper arm of young people (between the ages of 5-20).

What causes bone cancer?

Doctors and scientists have not discovered one, particular cause for bone cancer. However, certain factors can increase the chances of developing bone tumors.

Hereditary conditions (genetic factors passed from parent to child) can sometimes lead to cancer development because these conditions are caused as a direct result of DNA abnormalities. Certain forms of bone cancer occur when abnormal DNA is present. The following genetic syndromes have been linked to the development of bone cancer:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Hereditary retinoblastoma
  • Paget’s disease of bone.

Exposure to radiation (including therapy or treatment) can also increase the likelihood of developing bone cancer because radiation can damage DNA. Children are particularly susceptible to this, which is one reason why most bone cancers are found in children and teens.


In some cases, bone cancer comes with no symptoms at all. But it is usually accompanied by severe pain around the area in which the tumor(s) has developed.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling and redness near the affected area
  • Bone aches
  • Bone fractures (due to bone weakness).

How is bone cancer diagnosed?

Doctors use personal and family medical history to diagnose bone cancer. Physical examinations are also performed in combination with any of the following laboratory and diagnostic tests:

  • Blood tests can evaluate alkaline phosphatase levels. Bone cancers cause these enzyme levels to be high.
  • Bone scans are often used to take a direct look at the bones that may be affected. Tumors are easily seen with this type of test.
  • A computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan may be used to produce detailed pictures of internal body parts (specifically bones).
  • A biopsy of the surrounding tissue may be performed to determine if the tissue contains cancerous cells.
  • An angiogram is an x-ray of blood vessels, often used to determine if visible abnormalities (potential cancer) are present.
  • A positron emission tomography (PET) scan injects small amounts of radioactive glucose (sugar) into a vein to evaluate where glucose is used. Cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures use a magnet linked to a computer to create pictures of the inside of the body. These pictures can reveal tumors.

CyberKnife treatment for bone cancer

When it comes to treating bone tumors, reaching the tumors can be difficult so mobility is crucial. Since bones make up the entire structure of a person’s body, bone cancer can occur virtually anywhere.

Anova Cancer Care uses CyberKnife robotic radiosurgery to treat patients with bone cancer. CyberKnife enables doctors to achieve a high level of accuracy by directly targeting and destroying cancer cells. CyberKnife also reduces additional risk factors associated with operations because of its noninvasive approach and fewer side effects.

Bone Cancer Treatment