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Home > Cancers We Treat > Bone Cancer > Types of Bone Cancer

Types of Bone Cancer

Bone cancer is a rare disease in which cancer cells grow in the bone tissue. Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case bone cells, divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated method. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.

Cancer may form in the bone or spread to the bone from another site in the body. When cancer starts in bone tissue, it is called primary bone cancer. When cancer cells travel to the bone from another site in the body, it is called secondary or metastatic cancer to the bone.

Types of bone cancer include:

  • Osteosarcoma — a cancerous tumor of the bone, usually of the arms, legs or pelvis
  • Chondrosarcoma — cancer of the cartilage
  • Ewing's sarcoma — tumors that usually develop in the cavity of the leg and arm bones
  • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma — cancers that develop in soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments, fat and muscle, and move to the bones of the legs, arms and jaw
  • Giant cell tumor — a primary bone tumor, most common in the arm or leg bones
  • Chordoma — primary bone tumor that usually occurs in the skull or spine


The cause of primary bone cancer is unknown. Genetics play a major role in most cases. Conditions that cause increased bone breakdown and regrowth over an extended period increase the risk of tumor development. This explains why osteosarcoma in children is most common during the adolescent growth spurt.


Factors that can increase your chance of getting bone cancer include:

  • Paget's disease —a noncancerous bone condition
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Family history of bone cancer

Certain types of bone cancer have specific risk factors:

  • Osteosarcoma:
    • Age: 10-30 years old
    • Sex: male
    • Inherited cancer syndromes, including Li-Fraumani and Rothmund-Thompson syndromes
    • Retinoblastoma —a rare eye cancer
    • Bone marrow transplantation
  • Chondrosarcoma:
    • Age: older than 20 years old
    • Multiple exostoses—an inherited condition that results in bumps on bones
  • Ewing’s sarcoma:
    • Age: younger than 30 years old
  • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma:
    • Increased age
  • Giant cell tumor:
    • Age: young and middle-aged

Symptoms of Bone Cancer

Symptoms of bone cancer vary, depending on the location and size of the tumor and may include:

  • Pain at the tumor location
  • Swelling or a lump at the location of the tumor
  • Deep bone pain severe enough to wake you up
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever or night sweats


Your doctor may test bodily fluids and tissues or use X-rays, and/or CT, MRI or bone scans.

If tests reveal cancer, staging tests will find out if and how the cancer has spread.

Treating Bone Cancer

Treatment depends on the type, stage, and location of the cancer, and your overall health. Treatment options include:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Myeloblative therapy with stem cell support
  • Gamma knife radiosurgery

Treating Certain Cancer Types

  • Osteosarcoma — Chemotherapy given before and after surgery will often cure osteosarcoma and can allow for limb-sparing surgery in people who might have otherwise required amputation.
  • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma— These conditions are usually treated with surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and a one-inch margin of healthy tissue surrounding it.

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.