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Bone Cancer


Introductory statement, definition & epidemiology

There are more than 200 bones in the human body. It supports the body as a framework and also protects vital organs e.g. lung or heart.

Primary bone cancer starts in the bone whereas secondary bone cancer starts from other parts of the body and spreads to the bone (e.g. from the breast, lung or prostate).

Primary bone cancer only effects less than one percents of patient with bone cancer. Osteosarcoma is the commonest type and it usually affects young adults. It can affect any bone, but the arms, legs and pelvis are more commonly affected.

Secondary bone cancer is the commonest bone cancer. It is a spread of dangerous cancer cells from other organ to the bone. The cancer cells can affect any bone.

Signs & symptoms

The symptoms of bone cancer may vary from person to person, depending on the type and site of the cancer. Generally the signs and symptoms are :

  • pain and swelling of the affected area
  • increasing pain at night
  • loss of function
  • susceptibility to fracture
  • unexplained loss of appetite and weight


Good history taking and physical examination with necessary tests i.e. X-rays, bone scan and bone biopsy (surgical procedure to remove small part of the cancer cells and examined in the laboratory) is adequate to diagnose a bone cancer.


With the current advance in chemotherapy (anti cancer drugs), special investigations, radiotherapy (x-rays to target and kill cancer cells) and surgical procedure, most of the primary and secondary bone cancer are treatable.

The treatment of secondary bone cancer will depends on the origin of the cancer. For many people with advanced stage of cancer, the aim of treatment is to prolong life and relieving symptoms of bone metastases.


Over the past few years, the chances of recovery has increased significantly due to advancements in modern chemotherapy.

The chance of recovery will depend on many factors that the orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with the patient and their relatives.

Last reviewed : 26 April 2012
Writer : Dr. Azaiddin Akasah
Reviewed : Dr. Fitjerald Henry