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Bone Cancer (Bone Sarcoma)

Cancer of the bones can either travel to bone from other organs (metastatic bone cancer), or it can begin in the cells of the bone itself (primary bone cancer). 

The cause of primary bone tumors is unknown. Possible causes include genetic defects passed down through families (conditions such as Paget’s disease) or past radiation exposure.

Thanks to advances in limb-sparing surgery (also called “limb preservation”), nine out of 10 people who have primary bone cancer do not need to have an amputation. Surgeons at the Center for Limb Preservation at Rush were among the first in Illinois to perform limb-sparing surgical procedures for people affected by bone cancers.

Types of bone cancer

These are among the most common primary bone cancers:

  • Chondrosarcoma, a malignant tumor of cartilage cells, which usually appears after age 40.
  • Ewing’s sarcoma, which occurs most often in children and teens under age 19 but can also affect adults. The most common sites are the pelvis (hip bones), chest wall and legs, usually in the middle of the bones.
  • Osteosarcoma, a malignant tumor which forms in bone and typically starts between the ages of 10 and 19. It may occur in the elderly as well. It usually begins in areas of bone that are rapidly developing. Common sites include the bones around the knee, the upper arm bone, the pelvis, shoulder and jaw.

Bone cancer may spread to other areas of the body, most commonly the lungs or other bones.

Bone tumor symptoms

  • Symptoms vary, depending on the location and size of the tumor. The most common symptom of primary bone cancer is pain, but not all bone cancers cause pain. When pain is present, is it usually worse at night and while resting, as well as with activity.
  • Other symptoms depend on the size and location of the tumor and may include fatigue, weight loss, swelling, or a fracture with little or no trauma.

How can I get help for bone cancer?

See your doctor in the following cases:

  • You suffer a bone fracture from what seems like a minor injury
  • You have bone pain, especially pain that is worse at night
  • You notice a lump and swelling in your arm or leg that does not go away

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with primary bone cancer, your doctor will refer you to an oncologist at Rush who specializes in treating these rare cancers.