Identifying bone cancer early on is an important step to overall healing and health. If you’re curious about what are the symptoms of bone cancer, then this guide is for you.
We’ll cover some bone cancer basics before diving into the common symptoms, along with some that are rare.
Remember that every cancer, and every patient, is unique — but familiarizing yourself with symptoms early on is always a good idea.
Bone Cancer Basics
Before we discuss what are the symptoms of bone cancer, let’s first answer — what is bone cancer? Primary bone cancer begins when cancerous cells start to grow out of control. Patients may discover bone tumors, which can either be benign tumors (noncancerous) or malignant tumors (cancerous). Additionally, when someone is told they have bone cancer, this can also refer to cancer that has started elsewhere — like the breast or the prostate— and spread, or metastasized, to the bone. This isn’t bone cancer, but rather, breast or prostate cancer that has metastasized to the bone. 1
Malignant bone cancers are also referred to as primary bone cancers. The most common is osteosarcoma, followed by chondrosarcoma, and Ewing sarcoma. Forms of bone cancer often begin with similar symptoms. 5
Bone Cancer Symptoms
Signs and symptoms vary among the different types of bone cancer, but they are all somewhat similar in the beginning. From early symptoms like bone pain and swelling to symptoms that are seen later on, like unintentional weight loss and anemia, here are some identifying signs and symptoms of primary bone cancer.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer — and its most common symptom early on is pain. Because this cancer most often affects long bones in the body, like arms and legs, that’s where the pain will be felt. If we’re talking about what does bone cancer feel like in the beginning, know that the bone pain might not be constant at first. The pain can come in increments or be present during times of increased movement or physical exercise. In younger individuals who are diagnosed with osteosarcoma, this pain can often be mistaken for something that’s brought on due to physical activity or injury (especially if they’re active). The symptoms of osteosarcoma can feel worse at night and can begin to be felt during times of lifting, moving, or walking.
Typically, these symptoms will be present for a few months before diagnosis. When discussing what are the early signs of bone cancer, remember that pain is different for everyone. Some of us have a higher tolerance or describe pain in a different way. A long aching pain to some might be characterized by a sharp, prolonged pain in others.
Often, the symptoms of osteosarcom are characterized by the onset of sudden severe pain in the area after it’s already been sore for a few weeks or months. Many people wonder what bone cancer feels like and where in the body you experience it; this depends on the type of cancer, though with osteosarcoma, it frequently begins in the femur (end of the thigh bone) or tibia (upper leg bone) followed by the arm bone near the shoulder. 1
Swelling is another trait that’s common when discussing what are symptoms of bone cancer. The area where the pain is present might begin to swell. Some individuals might find a lump or a mass. If swelling occurs in the joint, it might be difficult to move or the affected area may feel stiff. It can sometimes take a few weeks for swelling to happen after the initial pain begins, though this depends on the specific type of bone cancer. In referencing what are the signs of bone cancer that happen after swelling, the individual might develop a limp if the tumor and swelling are located on the hipbone or in the leg. 1
Similar to pain and swelling, tenderness can also be an early symptom of bone cancer. Bone cancer might cause the area that’s affected to feel tender upon touch, such as in cases when you physically touch the area with your hand or make contact with a hard surface. 1
Redness and Warmth
Redness and warmth in the affected area are also symptoms to be aware of when considering what are the signs of bone cancer.
A pathological fracture is a broken bone that is brought on by disease rather than injury. Bone cancer can weaken the bones, which causes these fractures to occur next to or through the bone tumor. This is often described as a sharp and sudden severe pain. Sometimes, this symptom — when it creates a fall or injury — leads to the patient’s discovery and eventual diagnosis of bone cancer. These pathological fractures share the same symptoms as fractures that are brought on by injuries. There may be mild to severe pain near the broken bone, bruising, tenderness, and swelling near the broken bone, and numbness, tingling, or weakness near the broken bone and surrounding tissue. When a bone has been weakened by illness, like cancer, normal activities and movement might cause the bones to fracture. 1,2
When discussing what does bone cancer look like, feel like, and how is bone cancer diagnosed, there are also systemic symptoms to look for. These symptoms are not directly linked to the bone, but they do occur in some patients. Systemic symptoms typically occur as a result of the cancer advancing and are therefore seen later on. 1
Unintentional Weight Loss
If you have not tried to lose weight on your own, but you are noticing a decrease in your weight, this is considered unintentional weight loss. Typically, it refers to a loss of 10 pounds or more, or 5% of your normal body weight, over 6-12 months without trying to or without knowing why. 3
Fatigue, lethargy, and a general feeling of sleepiness, even when you’ve gotten enough sleep, are also considered systemic symptoms.
Fever, although rare, is another symptom that has been associated with bone cancer.
Anemia refers to a low red blood cell count. It’s a common blood disorder that can cause head pains, chest pains, and pale skin and is also a symptom of bone cancer. 4
Along with the more common symptoms, there are also rare symptoms that can accompany certain types of bone cancer.
Head and neck osteosarcomas
Head and neck osteosarcomas comprise less than 10% of all osteosarcomas. Bones that are most affected are the jawbone and the upper mouth part of the skull. Cancers that develop in this area can lead to swelling and a mass in the back of the throat that can lead to trouble swallowing or breathing. If there is cancer in the spine, as the bones enlarge, this can cause symptoms of numbness, tingling, and weakness. 1
These are rare malignant bone tumors that arise from the bone cortical surface. They’re most common in young women, particularly in long bones near the knee joint. The symptoms of this bone cancer are different, as there might be minimal pain and tenderness, followed by an inability to extend and flex the knee joint. The tumor can be present for an extended period of time before finally being diagnosed. 1,6
Multifocal Sclerosing Osteosarcomas
With this type of bone cancer, multiple tumors develop in the skeletal tissue at the same time. The tumors develop independently, but at the same time, in different areas. Although symptoms may be similar to other osteosarcomas, these tend to develop in young children. 1
This cancer accounts for less than 1% of cases but happens in people who have been treated and cured by radiotherapy. Symptoms often include swelling in the area where extended radiation therapy occurred.
Although there is no definitive answer as to what causes bone cancer, it is known that the symptoms of pain, swelling, and tenderness are common. Keep in mind that these symptoms of bone cancer can also occur as a result of other bone diseases and infections.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Bone cancer will often be diagnosed with bone scan imaging tests, such as MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and X-rays, or a biopsy using a bone tissue sample.
If you have found symptoms, been diagnosed by a doctor, and are wondering how long do you live after being diagnosed with bone cancer, it’s important to stay positive and proactive. For localized osteosarcoma bone cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 77%. 7
This means that if you know the early symptoms, you can help prevent the spread of metastatic bone cancer, and continue leading a happy and healthy life. Many doctors will recommend traditional cancer treatment, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and other invasive methods. But, these methods are harsh on the body as opposed to natural cancer treatment options.
At Immunity Therapy Center, we’ve designed a treatment program that’s meant to stimulate your immune system, so that it can recognize and destroy the cancer cells. We use natural, non-invasive and effective therapy and offer each individual patient the best experience possible.
Our team has made it our mission to ensure our patients are happy — and healthy — in their treatment plans.
- verywellhealth.com. Signs and Symptoms of Bone Cancer https://www.verywellhealth.com/bone-cancer-signs-symptoms-and-complications-4161169
- healthline.com. Pathological Fracture https://www.healthline.com/health/pathologic-fracture
- medlineplus.gov. Weight Loss – Unintentional https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003107.htm
- medicalnews.com. Everything You Need to Know About Anemia. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/158800#diagnosis
- cancer.org. What is Bone Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/about/what-is-bone-cancer.html
- archivesofpathology.org. Parosteal Osteosarcoma https://www.archivesofpathology.org/doi/full/10.5858/arpa.2013-0030-RS
- cancer.org. Survival Rates for Osteosarcoma https://www.cancer.org/cancer/osteosarcoma/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.