Bone cancer can begin in any bone in the body

Skeletal cancer, often called bone cancer, is one of the rarest forms of cancer. It starts in the bones or cartilage and can destroy normal bone tissue. Benign (noncancerous) bone tumors are more common than malignant (cancerous) ones.

Primary skeletal cancer is rarer than secondary (metastatic) cancer of the bone. Metastatic cancer spreads from elsewhere in the body and is named for the part the body where it began.

There are several types of skeletal cancer. The most common primary skeletal cancer is called osteosarcoma. It starts in cells that make new bone tissue. Osteosarcoma is most common in teens and in adults over 65. 

Chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in cartilage but can spread to bones. It’s most common in adults between age 30 and 70.

Another type of cancer that can affect bones is called Ewing sarcoma. It can also involve soft tissue but is more common in bone. Ewing sarcoma of the bone is most common in teens and young adults.


Treatment depends on the stage, type and location of the cancer and other factors. Skeletal cancer is much easier to treat in the early stages. Your care team will talk to you about treatment options that are best for you. The main types of treatment for skeletal cancer are:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor. Modern methods help minimize the amount of healthy tissue that has to be removed and can help prevent the need for amputation (removal of an arm or leg). Reconstructive surgery may be needed to help preserve limb function.
  • Radiation therapy, using high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It is usually used along with surgery.
  • Chemotherapy, using drugs to kill cancer cells. Skeletal cancer is usually treated with a combination of several drugs.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Skeletal cancer, often called bone cancer, is one of the rarest forms of cancer.


Symptoms of a bone tumor can include:

  • Bone fracture, especially from slight injury
  • Bone pain
  • A mass or swelling at the tumor site


If your doctor thinks you may have skeletal cancer, you may need imaging tests such as:
X-rays, which can show the location, size and shape of a bone tumor. 

  • Bone scan, using a small amount of a radioactive substance injected into a blood vessel. This substance collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, a series of pictures from different areas that can be combined into one detailed image
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a powerful magnet to create detailed images without the use of radiation.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan, using a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) injected into a vein. A scanner makes detailed images of the area. 

To confirm cancer, you will need a biopsy, using a tissue sample from the bone tumor. The sample can be obtained through surgery or by needle biopsy. In a needle biopsy, the doctor numbs your skin and inserts a thin needle through your skin and into the tumor.

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