Most commonly, bones are the site of tumors that spread or metastasize from another organ, such as the breasts, lungs or prostate. Cancer that arises in the bone — primary bone cancer — is rare.
Bone tumors may be benign or malignant. Benign bone tumors are more common, but both types may grow and compress healthy bone tissue and absorb or replace it with abnormal tissue. Benign tumors, however, don’t spread and are rarely life threatening.
The most common type of bone cancer is osteosarcoma, which develops in new tissue in growing bones. Another type of cancer, chondrosarcoma, occurs in cartilage. Ewing’s sarcoma begins in immature nerve tissue in bone marrow. Osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma tend to occur more frequently in children and teens, while chondrosarcoma occurs more often in adults.
Symptoms may vary depending on the location and size of the cancer. Pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer. Tumors that occur in or near joints may cause swelling or tenderness in the affected area. Bone cancer also can interfere with normal movements and can weaken the bones, occasionally leading to a fracture. Other symptoms may include fatigue, fever, weight loss and anemia.
Physical examination and X-rays may detect a bone tumor. If a tumor is suspected, diagnostic imaging will be used to confirm the diagnosis. To determine if a tumor is benign or malignant, tissue from the tumor must be removed for microscopic analysis. This often involves minimally invasive biopsy techniques, using tiny incisions.
During treatment, emphasis is placed on preserving bone. When surgery is necessary, treatment is tailored to fit the nature and location of the tumor. In some cases, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are administered.
Most often, limbs can be successfully saved with the use of bone allografts (bone tissue from a human donor) and custom prosthetic implants.