Bone cancers

We are here to help if you or your loved one has bone cancer

Cancer Education
5 min read

Bone cancers, also called bone sarcoma, are cancer that can grow in any bone of the body. Bones, like the rest of the human body, are living tissue made up of living cells. There are two types of bone cancer, and they are very different. 

  1. Primary bone cancer. This cancer starts in the bone itself, either on the inside or outside of the bone

  2. Secondary bone cancer. This cancer has started somewhere else in the body and has spread to the bone(s). This is also called 'metastatic bone cancer'

The most common symptom of bone cancer is pain in the bone and joints. This pain becomes constant and may not get better with mild painkillers such as Panadol. Often it is worse at night and when active. 

Other symptoms can include: 

  • Bone or joint swelling around the pain 

  • A lump or mass around the bone or joint pain 

  • Stiff or tender bone 

  • Problems with movement 

  • Unexplained weight loss 

  • Loss of feeling in the affected limb 

  • Feeling tired

Most people who have any of the above symptoms do not have bone cancer. These symptoms can also be due to other less serious conditions. Such conditions could be joint strain, injury or arthritis. 

Only a doctor can tell if you have bone cancer. If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should see your GP (General Practitioner). 

Your first tests for diagnosis 

Your specialist will place you at the centre of our work. They will find out where your cancer started (what type of cell) and what type of bone cancer it is. 

Bone cancer can be either: 

  • Primary bone cancer is rare and there are more than 30 types of this cancer disease 

  • Secondary bone cancer is more common. This cancer is metastatic, which means it started in another place of the body and has travelled to the bone(s) 

Our experts will work with you to find out about your condition. They will support you through a medical examination and other key tests such as: 

  • Pathology (blood tests) 

  • Imaging (scans and x-rays) 

  • Biopsy 

Diagnosis of bone cancers

We are the largest bone and soft tissue sarcoma service in Australia. We provide you with the best testing and treatment for bone cancer.  

We will design and work on a diagnosis and treatment plan. This plan will be the best response to your condition and individual needs. 

To diagnose bone cancer, we will take: 

  • X-rays, bone scans and MRIs. This will show the exact size and place of the cancer 

  • A bone biopsy which is a small sample of cells from the affected bone area. We will test this sample for cancer cells. If present, there will be further testing to find out the exact disease 

Focusing on you

Our doctors will discuss and develop the best treatment plan for you. Treatments will depend on your diagnosis. 

Bone cancer treatment will depend on: 

  • The type of disease it is 

  • Whether it has spread and how far (its stage) 

  • Your general health and wellbeing 

  • Your needs

For most types of bone cancer, surgery is the main treatment. We use it to remove the cancer, surrounding bone tissue and/or other infected areas such as lymph nodes. 

Our expert surgeons always aim to spare the limb where possible. We call this 'limb-sparing' surgery. This surgery means to remove the area of bone affected by the cancer. If needed, we will replace this with a bone from another part of the body. We may also replace it with an artificial (fake) bone or joint usually made of metal. 

Other treatments may involve: 

  • Chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs). This will help shrink the cancer cells before surgery. It may also destroy the cancer cells after surgery.  

  • Radiation therapy, which is strong and powerful beams of radiation/energy. These beams kill and/or slow cancer cells. We may use this either before or after surgery or both. 

  • Clinical trials 

  • A combination of these

Treatment for secondary bone cancer is different from treatment for primary bone cancer. Secondary bone cancer treatments need to consider where the cancer started (primary source). We will base this treatment on this. 

For example, a secondary bone cancer may have come from a primary lung cancer. It may then receive the same treatment as lung cancer. This will all depend on the disease and its stage as well as your needs. 

Enhancing your care (after treatment) 

After effective treatment, you will continue to see your specialist every three months. We use these visits to watch your health. These visits may include tests such as pathology, scans, x-rays, and small biopsies. Your specialist will discuss the best follow-up plan for you. 

Support for bone cancers 

We focus on all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Our sarcoma experts will help support and guide you to the best information and managed care. 

Our specialist nurses can refer you to our: 

  • Support groups 

Living with Bone cancers

We know how hard cancer and treatment can be. They can disrupt and change your lifestyle and that of your loved ones. During this time, it is common to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy. There are many expert groups available to support you through this time, including: 

Patient and carer resources 

More information about bone cancers and their treatment is available. Download a copy of Cancer Council Victoria's fact sheet: 

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