The cause of bone tumors is unknown. They often occur in areas of the bone that grow rapidly. Possible causes include:
- Genetic defects passed down through families
In most cases, no specific cause is found.
Osteochondromas are the most common noncancerous (benign) bone tumors, and occur most often in people between the ages of 10 and 20.
Cancers that start in the bones are referred to as primary bone tumors. Cancers that start in another part of the body (such as the breast, lungs, or colon) are called secondary or metastatic bone tumors. They behave very differently from primary bone tumors. Multiple myeloma often affects or involves the bone, but is not considered a primary bone tumor.
Cancerous (malignant) bone tumors include:
The cancers that most often spread to the bone are cancers of the:
These forms of cancer usually affect older people.
Bone cancer is more common in persons who have a family history of cancers.
Symptoms of bone tumor may include any of the following:
- Bone fracture, especially fracture from slight injury (trauma)
- Bone pain, may be worse at night
- Occasionally a mass and swelling can be felt at the tumor site
Some benign tumors have no symptoms.
Exams and Tests
The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. Tests that may be done include:
- Alkaline phosphatase blood level
- Bone biopsy
- Bone scan
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the chest
- MRI of the bone and surrounding tissue
- X-ray of bone and surrounding tissue
This disease may also affect the results of the following tests:
Some benign bone tumors go away on their own and do not need treatment. Your doctor will closely monitor you. You will likely need regular imaging tests, such as x-rays, to see if the tumor shrinks or grows.
Surgery may be needed to remove the tumor in some cases.
Treatment for cancerous bone tumors that have spread from other parts of the body depends on where the cancer started. Radiation therapy may be given to prevent fractures or to relieve pain.
Tumors that start in the bone are rare. After biopsy, a combination of chemotherapy and surgery is usually necessary. Radiation therapy may be needed before or after surgery.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
How well you do depends on the type of bone tumor.
Outcome is expected to be good for people with noncancerous (benign) tumors. But some benign bone tumors can turn into cancer.
Most patients with cancerous bone tumors that have not spread can achieve a cure. The cure rate depends on the type of cancer, location, size, and other factors. Talk to your doctor about your particular cancer.
- Reduced function, depending on the tumor
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Spread of the cancer to other nearby tissues (metastasis)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of a bone tumor.
Tumor - bone; Bone cancer; Primary bone tumor; Secondary bone tumor
Coleman RE, Holen I. Bone metastases. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 51.
Heck RK Jr. Benighn/aggressive tumors of bone. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 26.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Bone cancer. Version 1.2014. Available at: www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/bone.pdf. Accessed: March 23, 2014.
Update Date 3/23/2014
Updated by: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.