Our bones are our body’s support system. They protect our organs, help us move, and provide a place for our bone marrow — which creates our blood cells. They’re an essential framework of our anatomy and when they aren’t working properly, we can feel it.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a persistent pain near your knee or an ache in your shoulder and have found yourself wondering — what does bone cancer feel like?
Whether your pain is brought on by a fracture, an infection, or potential bone cancer, let’s cover the basics and the details, so you can familiarize yourself with the unknown. In our guide, we’ll talk about what bone cancer feels like, the specific types of pain, and where you’ll feel them based on different benign bone tumors and malignant bone tumors.
Remember, pain in the bones doesn’t always signify primary bone cancer, but becoming familiar with cancer symptoms and signs can help with early detection so you can begin your alternative cancer treatment for bone cancer as soon as possible and reduce additional risk factors.
What Does Bone Cancer Feel Like?
Primary bone cancer initially begins with a tender feeling in the affected bone. In general, bone cancer can be characterized by bone pain, inflammation, stiffness, fractures, and limping. Whether you’re curious about what bone cancer feels like in your leg or arm, it’s important to know the specifics of the pain, so you can best describe the feeling to your physician. The best way to understand how bone cancer feels is first by asking, what are the symptoms of bone cancer, which we’ll cover below.
The most common feeling with bone cancer is pain, which may become worse with the growth of the tumor. In the beginning, the pain might occur only when you are exercising, moving, or at night. The pain is often described as a dull or sharp throb to the bone or area surrounding the bone. This will often be felt in the back, pelvis, arms, ribs, and legs. 1,2
The pain is often described as aching, throbbing, stabbing, and excruciating — and can lead to things like loss of appetite and insomnia. Keep in mind that bone tumors can also cause no pain at all with early symptoms, and must be detected using bone scan imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). 3
Whether you are experiencing the main in the leg or pelvis, the pain will feel similar and may become more pronounced as the cancer progresses into more advanced bone cancer stages. Answering what does bone cancer pain feel like can be difficult, as the pain can vary between each individual. If you do feel persistent bone pain, it’s good to seek a professional opinion.
In certain cases, bone cancer can lead to inflammation around the affected bone. If this bone is a joint, the swelling might make it difficult to move or use the joint. Normal movements might cause you distress or pain. You might also notice a lump on or near the affected bone. 1,2
In addition to inflammation, some individuals experience stiffness and a limited range of movement, which can be painful. 4
Bone fractures can happen as a result of trauma, overuse, and disease. With bone cancer, your bones often become weak, which may cause a bone fracture. These fractures can happen in areas of the bone where you’ve experienced pain or soreness. 1
Limping, most often in later-stage bone cancer can also cause pain. This typically happens when a bone with a tumor breaks or fractures. 4
In some cases, you may experience additional symptoms. You might have difficulty breathing or you might lose weight unexpectedly and experience exhaustion.1
Where Do You Feel Bone Cancer?
Bone cancer most often occurs in the legs or upper arms, although any bone can be affected. 3 Pain in the bones can also occur due to metastatic cancer that has begun in another area and spread to the bone (this is not referred to as bone cancer). While all cancers can spread and cause metastatic bone cancer, the most common forms include breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Where you feel bone cancer depends on the area that is affected. Here are some types of metastatic bone cancer and where they occur in the body. We’ll also cover benign tumors, as those can cause discomfort and painful symptoms as well. 5
Benign refers to tumors that are not cancerous. Though a benign tumor is unlikely to lead to serious complications or death, it’s important that they are still treated, as they can cause future issues as they grow. If you think you have a benign tumor seek treatment from a professional to prevent further issues.
Osteochondromas make up 30-40% of all benign tumors. Osteochondroma tumors are composed of bone and cartilage and form near the ends of long bones. They’re often seen in the femur (lower end of the thigh bone), humerus (upper arm bone), and tibia (lower leg bone).
Nonossifying fibroma unicameral
This is a bone cyst that’s typically found in the leg and occurs most often in children and adolescents.
Giant cell tumors
These rare tumors grow aggressively in adults near the rounded end of the bone (not in the growth plate). The tumor cells develop into masses on the bone and surrounding soft tissue.
Enchondromas are cartilage cysts that show up in the hands, feet, and long bones of the arm and thigh. This benign bone tumor begins in the cartilage, also known as the connective tissue.
With fibrous dysplasia, which is a gene mutation, bones become fibrous and fracture more easily.
Aneurysmal bone cyst
Aneurysmal bone cysts are abnormal blood vessels that begin in the bone marrow. They grow fast and can affect growth plates.
There are three common types of malignant tumors, also known as primary bone cancers.
Osteosarcoma is the next most common form of bone cancer and is most prevalent in children and adolescents. It usually develops in the hip, knee, or shoulder and grows quickly. It can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body where the bones are growing (also known as growth plates) like the top part of the lower leg bone and the thigh bone.
Ewing sarcoma tends to show up in the legs, upper arms, skull, ribs, pelvis, and backbone. It can occur in children and young adults and in addition to growing in bones, it can also grow in soft tissue like fat and muscle.
Chondrosarcoma typically develops in the hips, shoulders, and pelvis and affects middle-aged people and older adults.
How To Detect Bone Cancer
In addition to the symptoms listed above, bone cancer is also detected through bone scan imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, pet scans, and biopsies. A doctor may use multiple methods, like a biopsy and a CT scan, depending on the affected area.
What Else Causes Bone Pain?
When we’re talking about what bone cancer pain feels like, it’s also good to note that other things can bring about bone pain in your body. 6,7
Osteoporosis: A common bone disease that leads to weak and brittle bones
Bone bruise: When the bone hits a hard surface (such as during a fall)
Arthritis: Inflammation of the joints that can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling
Myalgia: Muscle pain that can be both short or long-term and lead to joint pain
Osteomalacia: This refers to bone softening that often happens because of a vitamin-D deficiency and can cause a dull, aching pain
Injury: Injury that occurs due to trauma or force
Paget’s disease: A chronic bone disease that affects older adults and leads to excess bone formation
Fracture: Fracture can occur after accidents, injuries, overuse in athletics, or because of weakened bones — it can also cause swelling and bruises
Secondary bone cancer: Cancer that started somewhere else and then spread to the bones
Leukemia: Cancer that starts in the bone marrow and leads to overcrowding of cancer cells, which can be a source of joint and bone pain
Osteomyelitis: An infection of the bones that causes bone pain, tenderness, swelling, warmth, and redness
Overuse: From exercise, lifting, or excessive use
Osteonecrosis: This happens when a bone’s blood supply is compromised, leading to bone collapse due to the death of bone and bone marrow cells
Growing pains: Such as those that happen in children and teenagers
Now that we’ve covered what does bone cancer feel like, we hope you feel armed with knowledge about your body and health. If you experience persistent or worsening bone pain, please get in contact with a professional.
If you are diagnosed with bone cancer, try to remain positive, proactive, and hopeful. The overall five-year survival rate for bone cancers in adults and kids is roughly 70%. And detecting bone cancer, or any cancer, early on reduces your risk factors and means a greater chance for recovery. 4
Many doctors may recommend traditional bone cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. These methods can be invasive and taxing on the body, which is why we offer alternative treatment options.
A patient that is feeling any kind of bone tumor symptoms may want to do a CT scan or other type of testing to gain more information about the affected area. If you or someone you know has bone cancer, feel free to reach out to Immunity Therapy Center today so we can talk through your options. We use alternative cancer treatments that will help keep your cells healthy and put you on the road to wellness.
Our team is filled with dedicated and passionate individuals. With us, you’ll never feel like another chart or diagnosis. You’ll feel at home.
From all of us at Immunity Therapy Center, thank you for reading. We look forward to meeting you.
- cancercenter.com. Bone Cancer Symptoms https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/bone-cancer/symptoms
- nhs.uk. Symptoms – Bone Cancer https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bone-cancer/symptoms/
- medicine.net. Early Bone Cancer Symptoms https://www.medicinenet.com/early_bone_cancer_symptoms/views.htm
- medicinenet.com. Bone Cancer https://www.medicinenet.com/bone_cancer_overview/article.htm
- healthline.com. Bone Tumor https://www.healthline.com/health/bone-tumors#benign-tumors
- medicalnewstoday.com. What Could Cause Bone Pain? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321835#causes
- verywellhealth.com. Causes of Bone Pain and Treatment Options. https://www.verywellhealth.com/bone-pain-189457
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.