Primary bone cancer, which is cancer that begins in bones, is very rare. Other types of cancer can spread to bones. Knowing the early signs of bone cancer may help a person get a prompt diagnosis and improve their outlook.

The most common symptom of bone cancer, whether cancer originates in the bones or spreads to them, is pain. The bones may also weaken, causing frequent broken bones.

Depending on the location of the cancer, a person may also develop other symptoms, such as back pain or spinal cord compression.

Bone cancer is not a single type of cancer. Rather, it is a group of cancers that include:

The cancer’s name indicates where the cancer begins.

This article details the early signs of bone cancer. It will also discuss the causes and risk factors, treatment options, and when to contact a doctor.

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The most common early symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • Pain: Bone cancer often causes pain where the tumor is growing. The pain may only be occasional at first. It may get worse when a person uses the bone, such as when someone with a tumor in their arm lifts something. The pain may become more constant with time.
  • Broken bones: Bone cancer can weaken the bones, causing them to fracture more easily or sometimes to fracture for no apparent reason.
  • Swelling: Some cancers cause the tissue surrounding the bone to swell. A person might notice a lump or swollen spot.
  • Weakness: Bone cancers that affect the spine may put pressure on the spinal cord. This can cause weakness or tingling.
  • Fatigue: Like other cancers, bone cancer can cause unexplained fatigue.
  • Weight loss: Cancer sometimes causes sudden, unintentional weight loss.

These symptoms can occur with many conditions, not just cancer. Sometimes they may occur without a serious underlying cause. It’s always a good idea to get any new symptoms checked out by a doctor to confirm their cause.

Early symptoms of bone cancer to look out for

  • pain, particularly when using the bone
  • broken bones
  • swelling surrounding the bone
  • weakness or tingling in areas
  • unexplained weight loss
  • unexplained fatigue
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Bone cancer is a group of diseases that affect bones, cartilage, and cells that form bones.

Most cases of bone cancer occur when cancer somewhere else in the body spreads to the bones. The outlook for people with metastatic bone cancer is usually poor.

The overall 5-year survival rate for primary bone cancers is 76–79%, depending on the type of primary bone cancer. When the cancer has not spread, survival rates are higher.

Read more about bone cancer here.


Metastatic bone cancer is a bone cancer that begins somewhere else in the body but then spreads to the bones.

Primary bone cancer is cancer that begins in the bones. It is a rare type of cancer. The most common types of primary bone cancer include:

  • Osteosarcoma: The most common bone cancer, osteosarcoma begins in young bone cells and most often occurs in people aged 10 to 30.
  • Ewing sarcoma: The second most common form of bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma is most common in people under the age of 30. Tumors usually develop in bone but can also begin in soft tissue.
  • Chondrosarcoma: This cancer begins in cartilage. The risk of developing it increases with age.
  • Chordoma: This cancer begins in the spine’s bones. It occurs most frequently in adults over 30.
  • Giant cell tumor: More common in people in their 20s and 30s, this tumor usually affects the bones of the legs or arms. The tumor can be cancerous or benign.

It is recommended to contact a doctor if a person has any new symptoms that do not go away on their own. It is especially important to contact a doctor if a person:

  • breaks a bone
  • has bone pain
  • has another type of cancer and develops new or worsening pain

Primary bone cancer is usually idiopathic. This means there is no diagnosed cause.

Some risk factors include:

Metastatic bone cancer occurs when other cancers spread to the bone. Having any cancer is a risk factor for metastatic bone cancer. However, prostate and breast cancers account for about 70% of cancer that spreads to the bone, according to a 2017 research overview.

Treatment depends on the type of cancer, the person’s overall health, how well a person can tolerate treatment, and treatment goals.

In general, treatment options include:

  • surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation

Doctors may also offer palliative care to ease pain and hospice for people with untreatable cancer. Both can improve quality of life.

The outlook for people with metastatic bone cancer is typically poor since it means the cancer has spread throughout the body.

Regardless of the type of primary bone cancer a person has, their outlook is improved when the cancer is only in the bones and has not spread.

According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year survival rate for certain bone cancers are:

  • Osteosarcoma: 60%
  • Chondrosarcoma: 79%
  • Ewing tumors: 62%

These rates are for all cancer stages combined. Survival rates are higher when the cancer has not spread. This is why early detection and treatment are so important.

Exposure to radiation increases the risk of bone cancer but is usually necessary to treat other cancers.

Researchers have not identified lifestyle or environmental strategies that can reduce the risk of bone cancer.

Bone cancer often causes pain and bone weakness. Some people do not notice symptoms in the early stages.

Treating bone cancer before it spreads can prolong survival and increase the chances of curing cancer. People who experience bone pain for any reason can contact a healthcare professional for help and guidance.