Bone Cancer – Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

No matter where it strikes, cancer can be immensely distressing to cope with, especially when you receive the diagnosis and are told that it’s terminal. Cancer can affect just about any part of the body, whether it’s the brain, internal organs or even the skin. Bone cancer is one of the most common forms, but what if you worry about having it?

Like every other form of cancer, there are numerous symptoms that can hint at whether or not you have bone cancer. Here are the most common ones to keep an eye out for:

  • Pain in the bones – it’s the primary symptom of the disease
  • Tenderness in the affected bone, gradually becoming a prolonged ache that feels worse at night.
  • Swelling/redness around the affected bone
  • Weakened bones which become prone to breaking or fracturing after a fall or minor injury

There are also some symptoms which occur less often but are still relatively easy to spot. They are:

  • High temperatures in excess of 38C (100.4F) or a fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sweating more than usual, especially at night

If any of the above happens, the best thing to do is to contact your doctor. It’s best to get medical advice as soon as possible, as that way, if you are diagnosed; you will be able to receive treatment more quickly, which in turn could boost your chances of making a full recovery.

Types of bone cancer

The disease comes in a variety of forms, each differing by level of severity, ease of treatment and survival rates. They are:

  • Osteosarcoma – this affects younger people who grow at a rapid rate, particularly males between the ages of 10 and 25. In rare cases, it can affect older adults.
  • Ewing’s sarcoma – the most aggressive form of the disease, it affects children between 4 and 15 years of age. Again, this is more likely to affect males than females.
  • Chondrosarcoma – the second most common bone cancer, it develops around the cartilage cells, primarily affecting the over 40’s.
  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) – doesn’t directly affect the bones but the soft tissues surrounding them. Most common for those between 50 and 60 years of age
  • Fibrosarcoma – rare, it affects the soft tissue around the knees. Males between 35 and 55 are more likely to contract it.
  • Chordoma – again, this is rare. It’s found in either the lower or upper ends of the spinal column, and seen more often in people over the age of 30.

What to do in the event of diagnosis

Should you be asked to take a few tests to see whether or not you do have bone cancer, here’s what will most likely happen:

  • Your doctor will take a few x-rays of the affected area to see whether new bone is growing. They will find out whether you have cancer or something less serious like a fracture
  • Alternatively, the doctor may perform a biopsy. This involves taking a sample of bone and find out by performing tests whether or not you have cancer.

If you do have cancer, further tests are likely to be performed to see how far it’s spread and how much treatment is needed for you to make a recovery of some kind. However, it’s not certain that any treatment could automatically lead to survival, although plenty of support is available to help you come to terms with your illness.

Treatment for bone cancer

The most common form of treatment for most cancers is chemotherapy, and bone cancer is no exception.  However, it doesn’t always result in success, but is the most tried-and-tested method of curing it around. Surgery is also performed, often in tandem with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can also work.

In most cases, survival rates for bone cancer are decent, with many patients living for around five years or so after treatment. In some cases, treatment can be successful in more than half of all cases, partly owing to advancements in medicine and diagnosis.

Coping with bone cancer

Having constant bone pain is something that no-one will want to live through, but in the case of patients who receive a positive diagnosis, receiving the bad news can lead to a feeling of hopelessness. Fortunately, in most countries there are support groups and charities that can help to dispense useful advice on how to come to terms with it.

Meanwhile, treatment is available to help partially alleviate the pain that comes with having bone cancer, regardless of how severe or treatable it is. In the meantime, campaigners such as the Bone Cancer Research Trust are calling on diagnosis of the disease to improve, citing numerous examples of misdiagnosis of the disease as sports injuries or growing pains.

According to a recent article on, anyone suffering from osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer which affects children or young adults who grow at a rapid rate could be subjected to misdiagnosis, which could prove fatal. With less than half of all people who get this form of cancer expected to survive within five years of diagnosis, they stress that more should be done.

The difference between ordinary bone pain and cancer

Now and again, many people experience the odd twinge in their bones. It could arise because of something like cold weather, a trip where you landed awkwardly or a sprain. Fractures and broken bones can also cause bone pain, although the right amount of treatment and rest can result in complete recovery.

If you experience bone pain that gradually gets worse over a period of say, a couple of months or so, you should book an appointment with your doctor just to make sure. That way, you can know for sure whether or not you have cancer.

As bone pain is the primary symptom, it’s understandable that you might start to worry about whether you have the disease. If you do receive diagnosis, your family and friends are likely to rally around you for support, while medical assistance is available.

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