[Skip to Content]

Bone Cancer

Bone cancer is treated in our Orthopedic Oncology Program within the Upstate Cancer Center.

For more information or answers to your questions about our Cancer Care, please call 315 464-HOPE (4673) to speak with an Upstate Cancer Center representative.


Bone cancer is a growth that destroys normal bone tissue. It can also spread beyond the bone. It may be:

  • Primary bone cancer—starts in bone tissue
  • Secondary or metastatic bone cancer—cancer starts somewhere else and travels to the bone

Other types of bone cancer are:

  • Osteosarcoma—a tumor of the bone, usually of the arms, legs, or pelvis
  • Chondrosarcoma—a tumor that begins in the cartilage
  • Ewing sarcoma—tumors that usually begin in the leg and arm bones
  • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma—forms in soft tissues and moves to the bones of the legs, arms, and jaw
  • Giant cell tumor—a primary bone tumor, most common in the arm or leg bones
  • Chordoma—a primary bone tumor that is usually in the skull or spine


Bone cancer happens when cells divide without control or order. These cells grow together to form a tumor. They can invade and damage nearby tissues. They can also spread to other parts of the body.

The cause of primary bone cancer is unknown. Genes most likely play a role.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of bone cancer are:

  • Paget's disease
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Family history of bone cancer
  • Certain bone conditions

There may be other things that raise the risk. It depends on the type of bone cancer.


Symptoms will vary. They depend on the size and site of the tumor. Symptoms may be:

  • Pain at the tumor site
  • Swelling or a lump at the tumor site
  • Deep bone pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Being very tired
  • Problems breathing
  • Fever or night sweats


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Signs of cancer can be found with:

  • Blood tests—to look for abnormal bone activity
  • Biopsy—a sample of cells is taken with a needle or incision and then tested

Images can show where the tumor is and how large it may be. They can also show if a cancer has spread. Tests may include:

Test results will be used for staging. This will outline how far and fast the cancer has spread.


Treatment depends on the type, stage, and site of the cancer. It also depends on a person's overall health. One or more treatments may be used.

Surgery is used for most types of bone cancer. It may include removing:

  • The cancer and tissue in the area
  • Some nearby lymph nodes
  • Bone or an entire limb—if other options cannot remove the cancer
  • Placing bone grafts and metal plates—to support the bone after cancer is removed

Radiation therapy uses high energy rays or particles to kill or shrink cancer cells. It may be used:

  • After surgery—to kill an cancer cells that remain
  • Instead of surgery, if the cancer cannot be removed—to shrink the tumor and ease symptoms
  • Radiation—to kill or shrink cancer cells
  • Stem cell support—to regrow the bone marrow, if needed

Chemotherapy may be given by pills, injection or IV— to kill the cancer cells. It is used more often for certain types of bone cancer.

Other treatments that may be used for some bone cancers are:

  • Targeted therapy—targets and destroys cancer cells
  • Drugs that affect bone cells
  • Immunotherapy—drugs that help the body fight cancer
Radiation of Tumor
Radiation of Tumor
Copyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.


There are no current guidelines to prevent bone cancer.


  • Bone cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer.html.
  • Bone cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/bone/bone-fact-sheet.
  • Bone tumors and bone sarcomas. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bone-tumors-and-bone-sarcomas.
  • Ferguson JL, Turner SP. Bone cancer: diagnosis and treatment principles. Am Fam Physician. 2018;98(4):205-213.
  • Osteosarcoma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteosarcoma-in-adults.
  • Osteosarcoma in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteosarcoma-in-children.

Library resources related to bone cancer.

For more information:

Internet Links
The detailed guide includes descriptions of the causes, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, staging, and treatments of bone cancer.
Bone tumor information from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
A detailed description of bone cancer from the Mayo Clinic, including symptoms, risk factors, causes, treatments, and prevention.
Link to a search of the MedlinePlus database for health information on bone cancer. MedlinePlus links are managed by medical librarians at the National Library of Medicine.
A sheet of answers to common questions about bone cancer, including descriptions, treatments, and information on clinical trials.