What is bone cancer?
What is bone cancer?
Primary bone cancer begins when a cancerous tumour forms in a bone. It can start in any bone of the body, but usually in the pelvis, arms or legs. Cancer can also spread to the bones from other parts of the body. This is known as secondary or metastatic bone cancer.
Primary bone cancer is regarded as a rare cancer and affects about 250 Australians a year.1 Some types of primary bone cancer are more common in children than adults.
If you or a loved one have secondary bone cancer, you may benefit from reading this information together with information about your primary cancer.
Types of primary bone cancer
Doctors often refer to bone cancer as bone sarcoma. Below are three of the more common types of bone cancer:
- Osteosarcoma – this is the most common type of bone cancer and primarily affects children and young adults.2 It usually starts in cells that grow bone tissue.
- Chondrosarcoma – this cancer usually starts in bone cells that grow cartilage but can also start in soft tissue near the bones.
- Ewing sarcoma – a cancer that usually starts cells in the bone and can also occur in the soft tissue in the chest, abdomen or other parts of the body.
Symptoms of bone cancer
A common symptom of bone cancer is pain or tenderness in the bones or joints, which may worsen while sleeping or during movement. Other symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- unintended weight loss
- a fracture caused by weakened bones
Having any of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have bone cancer, but you should see your doctor for a check-up.
What causes bone cancer?
There is no clear cause of bone cancer. However, some factors appear to increase the risk. These include:
- inherited genetic conditions, like Li-Fraumeni syndrome and hereditary retinoblastoma2
- Paget’s disease or other bone conditions2
- radiation therapy for cancer during childhood2
Diagnosing bone cancer
Your GP will probably refer you to a specialist if they are concerned about your symptoms and risk factors for bone cancer. Tests to diagnose bone cancer may include:
- Blood tests – a full blood count can’t diagnose cancer on its own, but it is often the first step in telling doctors what is going on in your body
- Biopsy – this involves the removal of a small sample of bone and tissue for examination in a laboratory to determine if cancer is present and, if so, what type of cancer it is. A biopsy may be taken with local anaesthetic or under general anaesthetic
- Imaging tests – these might include X-rays, bone scans, a CT scan, an MRI or a PET scan to check for abnormalities or if cancer has spread to other parts of your body
Treatments for bone cancer
Treatment for bone cancer will depend on the type of cancer, how advanced it is and your individual circumstances and preferences. Treatments may include one or a combination of:
Chemotherapy is used to destroy or damage cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used in combination with surgery to either shrink the tumour before surgery or to kill any cancer cells left behind after surgery.
Radiation therapy uses X-rays to damage or kill cancer cells. In bone cancer, it may be given before surgery to shrink a tumour and make it easier to remove, or it may be given after surgery to reduce the chance of cancer cells returning.
Surgery for bone cancer is often combined with other treatments. In the early stages of cancer, surgeons may be able to remove a cancerous section of bone without the need for amputation. Unfortunately, amputation of a limb may be necessary in more advanced cases. If amputation is required, patients may be able to access an advanced artificial limb to replace the removed limb.
Your treatment with GenesisCare
Your treatment with GenesisCare
We understand that a cancer diagnosis can be emotional and life changing. It’s natural to feel disbelief, anxiety, sadness, anger and loneliness. At GenesisCare, we strive to strengthen your confidence, settle your emotions and create care experiences that give you the best possible outcomes.
Our care team will know your name and get to know who you are as a person. We don’t want you to feel alone when you’re with GenesisCare. Your nursing team and oncology team are here to support you before, during and after your cancer treatment. We are here to guide you and help you access support from experts such as psychologists, exercise physiologists, physiotherapists and dietitians.
Please contact your local GenesisCare centre for more details on the services available. View a list of our centres here.
Side effects of chemotherapy for bone cancer
Whether you experience side effects, and how severe they are, depends on the type and dose of chemotherapy treatment you are given and your reaction from one treatment cycle to the next. Most side effects are short-term and can be managed. These may include but are not limited to:
- nausea or vomiting
- constipation or diarrhoea
- hair loss
- temporary loss of libido
- temporary loss of erection
- lower sperm production
These symptoms tend to improve gradually once treatment stops. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel upset or anxious about how long treatment is taking or the impact of side effects.
What can I do to help my chemotherapy treatment go smoothly?
- Get as much rest as possible
- Aim for a wholefood, varied diet, but we also encourage you to eat foods that interest you rather than what you think you should eat
- Appetite changes are common, and you may experience taste changes or nausea. Help manage this by eating small, frequent snacks and avoiding smells that make you nauseated
- Drink lots of water
- Reach out to support groups and others who have had chemotherapy
- Ask your team about topical treatments for your skin if you have irritation or pain
- Stay out of the sun as much as possible throughout your treatment
- Record your side effects in a diary or journal
- Take some gentle exercise, such as walking, if you feel up to it. Light to moderate exercise can reduce treatment-related fatigue and improve your mood. Plan your exercise for times in the day when you know you have more energy
- It is important to acknowledge when you are fatigued and rest when you need to
- Ask for and accept help from family, friends and neighbours
- Be open with employers about your treatment and discuss flexible working options if you need them
Side effects of radiation therapy for bone cancer
General side effects include:
- soreness and swelling around the treatment area
- tiredness and lethargy for a few weeks after you finish
- hair loss
Most of these side effects will ease soon after treatment is finished. However, your team will discuss any long-term considerations with you, depending on the tumour type.
Side effects of surgery for bone cancer
Your doctor will talk to you about any risks before surgery. General side effects of bone surgery include pain and swelling.
Cancer information, resources and support services are available to assist you during your cancer journey. These include:
Cancer Council Australia
13 11 20
Australian Cancer Research Foundation
02 9223 7833
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Cancer in Australia; 2019. https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/8c9fcf52-0055-41a0-96d9-f81b0feb98cf/aihw-can-123.pdf.aspx?inline=true
- Brown HK et al. Biology of Bone Sarcomas and New Therapeutic Developments. Calcif Tissue Int; 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5805807/
Radiation therapy may be offered in the early stages of cancer treatment, or after it has started to spread. There are different radiation therapy techniques which may be suitable for different cancer types at different stages.
Across Australia, the UK, the USA, and Spain we have over 440 oncology, cardiology & sleep medicine centres.
GenesisCare attracts and retains some of the most experienced doctors in the country.