Putting our region's cancer needs first

Bone Cancer

Primary bone cancer is a rare type of cancer that begins in the bones. Around 550 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.


Some of the main types of bone cancer are:

  • osteosarcoma – the most common type, which mostly affects children and young adults under 20
  • Ewing sarcoma – which most commonly affects people aged between 10 and 20
  • chondrosarcoma – which tends to affect adults aged over 40


Bone cancer can affect any bone, but most cases develop in the long bones of the legs or upper arms.

The main symptoms include:

  • persistent bone pain that gets worse over time and continues into the night
  • swelling and redness (inflammation) over a bone, which can make movement difficult if the affected bone is near a joint
  • a noticeable lump over a bone
  • a weak bone that breaks (fractures) more easily than normal
  • problems moving around – for example, walking with a limp


In most cases, it is not known why a person develops bone cancer.

You are more at risk of developing it if you:

  • have had previous exposure to radiation during radiotherapy
  • have a condition known as Paget's disease of the bone – however, only a very small number of people with Paget's disease will develop bone cancer
  • have a rare genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome – people with this condition have a faulty version of a gene that normally helps stop the growth of cancerous cells


If you are experiencing bone pain, your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine the affected area, before deciding whether you need to have any further tests.

They will look for any swelling or lumps and ask if you have problems moving the affected area.

They may ask about the type of pain you experience – whether it is constant or comes and goes, and whether anything makes it worse. After being examined, you may be referred for an X-ray of the affected area to look for any problems in the bones. If the X-ray shows abnormal areas, you will be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon (a specialist in bone conditions) or bone cancer specialist for a further assessment.


Treatment for bone cancer depends on the type of bone cancer you have and how far it has spread.

Most people have a combination of:

  • surgery to remove the section of cancerous bone – it's often possible to reconstruct or replace the bone that's been removed, but amputation is sometimes necessary
  • chemotherapy – treatment with powerful cancer-killing medicine
  • radiotherapy – where radiation is used to destroy cancerous cells

In some cases of osteosarcoma, a medicine called mifamurtide may also be recommended.

If you have any concerns about the signs and symptoms of bone cancer, please visit your GP.

Support Life-Saving Research

Donate Now