Bone cancer, also called primary bone cancer, is a malignant tumor that originates in the cells of the body’s bones. Primary bone tumors are rare — and account for less than 1% of all newly diagnosed cancers. 1
But what causes bone cancer, how do you get it, and how can you prevent it? At ITC, we’re here to help you stay proactive with your health and guide you on your path to cancer knowledge.
Let’s take a closer look at bone cancer — from the risk factors, to the symptoms, stages, and alternative treatments for bone cancer.
What Causes Bone Cancer?
Scientists are still trying to discover exactly what causes bone cancer. At this time, the American Cancer Society notes that there is no known way for how to prevent bone cancer. Many people want to know how do you get bone cancer, and though great strides have been made toward researching it, we don’t have a definitive answer yet. You can, however, familiarize yourself with the risk factors associated with bone cancer to see if there are things you can do to lower your risk of getting it. 2
Risk factors refer to things that affect your chances of getting a disease. Remember, having a risk factor — or even a few — does not mean you will get bone cancer. In fact, many people with bone cancer show no signs of these risk factors at all.
A small number of bone cancers, particularly osteosarcomas, seem to be hereditary. These are caused by defects, or mutations, in genes. In children, retinoblastoma is a rare eye cancer that can be hereditary and is caused by a mutation in the RB1 gene. People with this mutation have an increased risk of developing both a soft tissue sarcoma and a bone sarcoma. The risk increases if radiation is used to treat the retinoblastoma — which can lead to osteosarcoma in the bones or around the eyes. Family members have been known to develop osteosarcoma with no inherited changes in the known genes, yet the defects that perhaps cause cancer in the families have not yet been discovered. 3
Multiple exostoses syndrome is another inherited condition which causes bumps made of cartilage to appear on a person’s bones. These bumps can be painful and lead to bone fractures — and the syndrome also puts the individual at an increased risk of chondrosarcoma bone cancer.
There is also a condition called multiple enchondromatosis, which leads to benign tumors on the bone. This can put people at an increased risk of developing chondrosarcoma bone cancer. 3
Chordomas are a rare cancer that occurs in the bones of the skull base and spine. The gene that’s responsible for chordomas that run in families has not been found — yet this type of “familial chordoma” has been linked to changes on chromosome 7.
Patients with tuberous sclerosis, which is an inherited syndrome caused by mutations in certain genes TSC1 and TSC2, usually puts children at high risk of developing chordomas. 3, 4
Though it’s benign, Paget’s disease is a precancerous condition. It causes abnormal bone tissue to form and typically is seen in people who are over the age of 50, resulting in thick, heavy bones that are weaker than normal bones. In those who have Paget’s disease, about 1% develop bone cancer. This often happens when multiple bones are affected in the disease.
When bones are exposed to ionizing radiation, they may have a higher risk of developing bone cancer. When radiation is being used to treat cancer, this can cause new cancer to develop in the bones of the area being treated. This risk is increased for those who are being treated with radiation when they’re younger or when there are higher doses of radiation. Radioactive materials, like radium and strontium, can also build up in the bones and lead to bone cancer. 3
Bone Marrow Transplant
A bone marrow transplant is a treatment for some types of cancer like leukemia or multiple myeloma. Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer and a few patients who have undergone a bone marrow transplant, have reported a subsequent osteosarcoma diagnosis. 3, 6
Bone Marrow Cancer
When discussing what causes bone cancer, it’s important to note what causes bone marrow cancer as well. These are not primary bone cancers, as they do not originate in the bone but rather, the cells or marrow. Like primary bone cancer, scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes these cancers, though contributing factors may include:
- Exposure to toxic chemicals in solvents, fuels, engine exhaust, certain cleaning products, or agricultural products
- Exposure to atomic radiation
- Certain viruses, including HIV, hepatitis, some retroviruses, and some herpes viruses
- Suppressed immune system or plasma disorder
- Genetic disorders or family history of bone marrow cancer
- Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy
Know the Symptoms and Stages
Because there is no known cause for bone cancer, the most important thing you can do to stay proactive is to know what are the symptoms of bone cancer. There are various types of bone cancer, but the signs and symptoms are generally the same. Becoming familiar with the symptoms is the first step. 7
The most common sign of bone cancer is pain. This pain will occur in the affected area. Keep in mind that it might not be constant and it may get worse during times of use — such as pain in your leg during running or pain in your arm as you do push-ups. The bone pain can worsen or become sharper and more severe as the cancer spreads. We emphasize the symptom of pain when answering what does bone cancer feel like, as this is a common indicator that should be addressed at its onset.
Swelling might not occur at the onset of bone pain. Typically, this swelling could take a few weeks to show up, but it’s a main characteristic to acknowledge if you’re wondering what does bone cancer look like. Though this all depends on the tumor’s location, there might be a lump or mass that you’re able to feel. In addition to swelling, the area of the tumor might be red or feel warm. In bone cancers that occur in the neck, a lump in the throat might difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Bone cancers can weaken the bones where the cancer is located, though most of the time, these bones do not fracture. If the fracture does occur through a primary bone tumor or next to a bone tumor, people often report a sharp and sudden pain.
If there is cancer in the spinal cord, this can lead to numbness, tingling, and weakness. Cancer can also cause fatigue and unintentional weight loss. Remember that these symptoms, as well as those symptoms listed above, can also be caused by injuries or infections that have nothing to do with bone cancer.
Bone Cancer Stages
Having the knowledge about how fast does bone cancer spread rests in its stage — but it’s also heavily dependent upon the individual. Each cancer and each person is unique, though the higher the stage of the cancer, the further the cancer has spread.
People sometimes ask how is bone cancer diagnosed and how are the bone cancer stages determined. If symptoms lead you and your doctor to believe that there may be bone cancer, the doctor will perform bone scan imaging tests, like an x-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or pet scan, or a tissue biopsy. These tests are done to assess the stages and determine the correct form of treatment.
Now that you’re more familiar with what causes bone cancer, we know you’ll stay vigilant and proactive about taking the right steps towards a healthy future.
Our patients often wonder how long can do live with bone cancer after being diagnosed, and we like to remind them that a bone cancer diagnosis, no matter how advanced or scary it may seem, does not mean you can’t beat it. Many doctors may recommend invasive treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery, but, at ITC, we believe in alternative treatments.
At Immunity Therapy Center, we focus on how to treat bone cancer naturally through immunity-boosting cancer treatment plans that strengthen the body and the spirit.
From sonodynamic therapy to customized herbal medication, our alternative cancer treatments for bone cancer strive to target cancerous cells and work alongside your existing cancer treatment to support your recovery while also mitigating side effects.
If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with bone cancer, we know what a tough time it can be. At ITC, our staff is filled with enthusiastic and passionate people who are here to help you fight. Reach out to us today to discuss your options or schedule your free phone consultation. Even if all you want to do is talk further about what is bone cancer and what causes bone cancer, we’re happy to answer your questions.
From all of us at Immunity Therapy Center, thanks for reading. We’re wishing you a happy and healthy day ahead.
- cancer.org. What is Bone Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/about/what-is-bone-cancer.html
- cancer.org. Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/causes-risks-prevention.html
- cancer.org. Risk Factors for Bone Cancer https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
- chordomafoundation.com. Understanding Chordomahttps://www.chordomafoundation.org/learn/understanding-chordoma/
- healthline.com. What is Bone Marrow Cancer? https://www.healthline.com/health/cancer/bone-marrow-cancer#causes
- cancer.net. What is a Bone Marrow Transplant? https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/bone-marrowstem-cell-transplantation/what-bone-marrow-transplant-stem-cell-transplant
- cancer.org. Signs and Symptoms of Bone Cancer https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.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.