Bone cancer that originates in the bone — primary bone cancer — is rare. Fewer than 2,500 Americans are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year. The condition affects more children than adults. Bone cancer is a malignant (cancerous) tumor of the bone that destroys normal bone tissue (1). Not all bone tumors are malignant. In fact, benign (noncancerous) bone tumors are more common than malignant ones. Both malignant and benign bone tumors may grow and compress healthy bone tissue, but benign tumors do not spread, do not destroy bone tissue, and are rarely a threat to life.
Most of the time when someone with cancer is told they have bone cancer, the doctor is talking about a cancer that spread there from somewhere else. This is called metastatic cancer and can be seen in people with advanced breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer as well as many others. When these cancers in the bone are examined under a microscope they resemble the tissue they came from. If someone has lung cancer spread to bone, the cells of the cancer look and act like lung cancer cells, not bone cancer cells, even after they have spread from the lungs to the bones. They are treated with the same kind of treatment (chemotherapy drugs, for example) that is used for lung cancer.
Malignant tumors that begin in bone tissue are called primary bone cancer. Cancer that metastasizes (spreads) to the bones from other parts of the body, such as the breast, lung, or prostate, is called metastatic cancer, and is named for the organ or tissue in which it began. Primary bone cancer is far less common than cancer that spreads to the bones.
Bone cancer: Primary bone cancer is cancer that forms in cells of the bone. Some types of primary bone cancer are osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, and chondrosarcoma. Secondary bone cancer is cancer that spreads to the bone from another part of the body (such as the prostate, breast, or lung). The most common types of primary bone tumour are osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma, both of which are most frequently diagnosed in children and young adults.
The first symptom of bone cancer is usually pain or tenderness near the cancer. Bone pain is caused by stretching of the periosteum (thick membrane that covers bone) by the cancer, or by stimulation of nerves within the bone. Bone pain may be hard to differentiate from ordinary low back pain or arthritis. Usually the pain due to bone metastasis is fairly constant, even at night. It can be worse in different positions, such as standing up, which may compress the cancer in a weight bearing bone. If pain lasts for more than a week or two, doesn’t seem to be going away, and is unlike other pain that may have been experienced, it should be evaluated by a physician.
Bone cancer is caused by a problem with the cells that make bone. More than 2,000 people are diagnosed in the United States each year with a bone tumor. Bone tumors occur most commonly in children and adolescents and are less common in older adults. Cancer involving the bone in older adults is most commonly the result of metastatic spread from another tumor.
The most common symptom of bone cancer is pain. Other symptoms may vary depending on the location and size of the cancer. Surgery is often the main treatment for bone cancer. Other treatments may include amputation, chemotherapy and radiation.