If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the bones and move to other parts of the body. Bone cancer is rare, with only 600 cases diagnosed in the UK every year. 

There are many different types of bone cancer, all of which are extremely rare, but the four most common are:

  • Osteosarcoma: the most common type of bone cancer. It usually develops in teenagers and young adults in the larger bones such as the thigh bone (femur) or the shin bone (tibia)
  • Ewing’s sarcoma: most common in teenagers, although it can also develop in adults, and usually develops in the pelvis, thigh bone or shin bone
  • Chondrosarcoma: usually develops in adults aged between 30 and 60, and mostly affects the pelvis, thigh bone, upper arm bone, shoulder blade and ribs
  • Spindle cell sarcoma: similar to osteosarcoma in terms of its symptoms and treatment, but it affects older adults aged 40 or over

Symptoms of bone cancer

The main symptom of bone cancer is persistent bone pain. This usually begins with tenderness in the affected bone, which progresses to a constant ache that often gets worse at night or when the bone is in use.

Less common symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • A high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sweating; usually at night
  • Swelling and redness around the affected bone
  • A noticeable lump on or around the affected bone

Bone pain that persists for more than three days is unlikely to be the result of growing pains, and while it is also unlikely to be bone cancer, it is important that the symptom is investigated.

How is bone cancer diagnosed?

Your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Because bone cancer is so rare, it can be difficult to diagnose. The tests for this cancer usually include:

  • A physical examination of the affected area
  • Blood test
  • MRI scan
  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Bone density scan
  • Core needle biopsy
  • Open biopsy

Treatment for bone cancer

Patients with bone cancer are treated by an experienced multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. The treatment protocol for bone cancer varies a great deal depending on the stage of the disease.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy