Some kinds of bone cancer can develop in a person’s ribs. However, these bone cancer types are extremely rare.

Cancer that forms in a person’s bones is called primary bone cancer (PBC). Another name for PBC is osteogenic sarcoma.

This kind of cancer is very rare. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), PBC accounts for less than 1% of all cancers. PBC is also more likely to affect males than females.

Cancer can also spread to a person’s bones after developing in a different part of their body. This kind of cancer is called secondary bone cancer (SBC), or bone metastasis.

This article discusses the types of primary bone cancer that can develop in a person’s ribs. It also discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of primary bone cancer.

Image of human ribs in neon lightsShare on Pinterest
Carol Yepes/Getty Images

There are many kinds of PBC, some of which can start in a person’s ribs.


The most common kind of PBC is osteosarcoma, or osteogenic sarcoma. Most osteosarcomas start in areas where a person’s bones are growing quickly. These areas often include the ends of leg or arm bones, close to a person’s shoulders or knees. Although osteosarcomas can develop at any age, children and young adults are more likely to develop them.

Osteosarcomas can develop in any bone. However, osteosarcomas in a person’s rib bones are very rare.

In an older 2010 case study, published in the Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, scientists described an osteosarcoma in a 42-year-old adult’s rib. They noted that only 1–2% of all osteosarcomas develop in chest bones such as a person’s ribs, sternum, and clavicle.

A study in the Turkish Archives of Pediatrics also investigated a similar rib osteosarcoma case. The researchers noted that osteosarcomas involved ribs in 1–3% of cases.


Chondrosarcoma is the second most common form of PBC. This tumor arises in the cartilage, where the joints form. Around 1 in 5 PBCs are chondrosarcomas.

They can develop in a person’s bones or the tissues or cartilage around them. Most chondrosarcomas develop in a person’s shoulders, pelvis, and hips, but they can also develop in their ribs.

Ewing sarcoma

Ewing sarcomas, or Ewing tumors, are the third most common type of PBC. People can develop Ewing sarcoma at any age. However, doctors most frequently diagnose Ewing sarcoma in people between the ages of 11 and 20 years old.

People can develop Ewing sarcoma anywhere on their body. One of the most common areas for a person to develop it is in their ribs.

Bone cancer can develop in any bone, but most cases develop in a person’s:

  • longer leg bones
  • upper arm bones


Osteosarcomas often develop in the bones of a person’s:

  • arms
  • legs
  • pelvis

Ewing sarcoma

Ewing sarcoma often develops in the bones of a person’s:

  • pelvis
  • ribs
  • shoulder blades
  • spine
  • legs


Chondrosarcomas develop in a person’s cartilage or in the bones of their:

  • hips
  • legs
  • arms
  • windpipe
  • voice box
  • chest wall
  • shoulder blades
  • ribs
  • skull

Scientists are not yet sure why people develop bone cancer in most cases. People are more at risk of developing bone cancer in the following circumstances:

  • They have had radiotherapy.
  • They have a condition called Paget’s disease, although this is a very small risk factor for bone cancer.
  • They have rare genetic conditions, such as:
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Werner syndrome
    • Rothmund-Thomson syndrome

The most common bone cancer symptom is pain. People often describe bone cancer pain as deep-seated and dull. They may have persistent bone pain that gets worse over time and continues into the night.

Other symptoms can include:

  • swelling and redness over one of their bones
  • a noticeable lump over a bone
  • a bone that fractures more easily than normal
  • a limp or difficulty moving around

If a person or someone they know has persistent, severe, or worsening bone pain, they should seek medical attention. Medical professionals will be able to diagnose the cause of their bone pain, which may be bone cancer.

To diagnose a person’s PBC, doctors first ask questions about their medical history. They then perform a physical examination of the person.

To confirm PBC, doctors then use other tests, such as:

  • tissue biopsies, where doctors examine a small tissue sample under a microscope
  • blood tests
  • scans, such as:
    • X-rays
    • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • computed tomography (CT)
    • whole-body bone scintigraphy
    • positron emission tomography (PET)

Doctors use MRI scans to determine the extent of a person’s PBC tumors. They may use a CT scan if a person cannot have an MRI scan or the MRI scan does not provide a clear diagnosis.

Doctors will base a person’s treatment on a variety of factors, including a tumor’s:

  • type
  • stage, or how far the tumor has progressed or spread
  • grade, or how tumors look and behave

They also accommodate a person’s personal preference for types of treatment. Treatment options for PBC include:

  • surgery to remove the section of cancerous bone
  • chemotherapy, or treatment with powerful medication to destroy their tumor
  • radiotherapy, or treatment with radiation to eliminate their tumor
  • medication called mifamurtide, in some cases of osteosarcoma

Doctors typically use surgery to remove PBC tumors. Then, they often reconstruct or replace the removed bone. However, doctors may need to amputate the affected limb section.

Primary bone cancer can develop in a person’s ribs. Although there are many types of PBC, PBC that develops in a person’s ribs is very rare. People who develop PBC normally have surgery to remove the affected areas of their bones.

Additional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, depend on individual circumstances. The doctor will create an individualized treatment plan in order to deliver the best possible outcomes.

The main symptom of PBC is bone pain. If a person has persistent or worsening bone pain, they should seek professional medical attention for diagnosis and treatment.