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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.

Care for bone cancer at Rush

At Rush, the goal is to successfully treat the cancer and, whenever possible for bone cancers in the arms or legs, prevent amputation.

Children and adults with primary bone cancer are treated by a team of doctors:

  • Pediatric oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors)
  • Other specialists as needed

Treatment plans are based on three factors:

  • Your age
  • The type and location of the cancer
  • How advanced the cancer is

Doctors may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor. Surgeons at Rush perform surgery to preserve the affected limb whenever possible. They often use self-lengthening implants in children because the implants can be lengthened as young people grow with no need for more surgery.
  • Different types of chemotherapy. Your doctors may choose to use two or more drugs together as a combination therapy. Chemotherapy may be used before and/or after surgery.
  • Radiation treatments before or after surgery. Patients are treated by a member of the radiation oncology team who specializes in bone cancers.

Why choose Rush for bone cancer care 

  • Experience matters: The number of patients who come to Rush for bone cancer and soft tissue sarcoma care is among the highest in Illinois.
  • Access to the latest clinical trials: Partnerships with the National Cancer Institute and the Children’s Oncology Group allow doctors at Rush to offer all of the latest clinical trials for bone cancers.
  • Convenience: If an amputation is necessary, Rush offers on-site prosthetics services. Specialists will go over your options and make sure you are properly fitted with the right prosthetic.
  • Outstanding cancer care: The Rush University Cancer Center received the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer. Rush received this triennial award all four times since the award was created in 2004. The award recognizes programs that excel in providing quality cancer care.

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