Healthcare professionals can usually detect bone cancer before it spreads to other areas. This is because symptoms such as swelling and bone pain often prompt a person to contact them.

Primary bone cancer is relatively rare, accounting for less than 1% of all cancers. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are no screening tests that doctors recommend for people who are not at increased risk of bone cancer.

People often consult a doctor about pain or swelling while bone cancer is in its early stages, so it is unusual for this type of cancer to go undetected.

This article examines the symptoms and diagnosis of bone cancer, how quickly it spreads, and the outlook for different types of bone cancer.

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Symptoms of bone cancer can vary depending on the type, location, and stage of the cancer.

Symptoms commonly include:


The most common symptom of bone cancer is bone pain in the tumor area. Pain may start intermittently and worsen during activity and at night. It becomes more constant as the cancer advances.


In some cases, bone tumors can cause swelling or a lump. A person may not notice swelling until the area becomes painful. If a person has cancer in the neck bones, they may develop a lump in the throat which can interfere with breathing and swallowing.


Bone cancer can weaken the affected bones. However, in most cases, the bones do not fracture. When this does occur, people often describe it as a sudden and severe pain in a bone that had been painful for a few months.

Other symptoms

As with other cancers, bone cancer can cause fatigue and weight loss.

Bone cancer can also cause other symptoms, depending on where it is. Bone cancer in the spine may cause compression on the nerves of the spinal cord, which can result in numbness, weakness, or tingling in other areas of the body.

If bone cancer metastasizes to other organs, such as the lungs, it can cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing.

Learn about the early signs of bone cancer.

A doctor may ask questions about a person’s symptoms, perform a physical examination, and order several imaging tests if they suspect a person has bone cancer. Doctors can usually confirm this diagnosis with a biopsy.

Doctors will also perform tests to determine whether the bone cancer began in the bone and is primary bone cancer or whether it is bone metastasis and has spread from another area of the body to the bone.

The speed at which bone cancer spreads depends on the type and extent of the cancer.

Ewing sarcoma is a type of primary bone cancer that most often affects children and adolescents. It is an aggressive type of cancer that may grow and spread more quickly than other types.

Osteosarcoma is also more common in children, adolescents, and young adults. If the cancer is high grade, it can grow quickly, while low grade osteosarcoma will grow slowly.

Chondrosarcoma is a type of primary bone cancer typically affecting people aged 30–60 and is usually slow growing.

The outlook for bone cancer depends on various factors, such as the type, stage, and grade of the cancer, a person’s age, and the individual’s overall health.

A person’s outlook is typically better if the cancer is localized and has not spread from the bone.

A 5-year relative survival rate indicates the probability of a person’s survival with a particular type of cancer 5 years after diagnosis compared to someone without that cancer. According to the ACS, data for 2012–2018 shows the combined 5-year relative survival rates for some types of bone cancer as follows:

  • chondrosarcoma: 79%
  • chordoma: 84%
  • giant cell tumor of bone: 78%

A person can have bone cancer and not be aware of it. However, doctors typically detect bone cancer early, often while it is curable. This is because symptoms such as bone pain and swelling often prompt a person to contact a doctor.

People may experience pain, a lump or swelling in the area of the tumor, a bone fracture, fatigue, and weight loss if they have bone cancer. The speed at which the cancer grows and spreads may depend on its type and stage.

The outlook for bone cancer is generally favorable, and doctors can often cure it. Cancer that is localized and has not spread beyond the bone is more likely to be curable.