Bone cancer, also known as primary bone cancer begins when malignant cancer cells gather to form a tumor on the affected bone.
There are both malignant and benign bone tumors, both of which can grow and compress healthy bone tissue. Primary bone cancers, however, are rare and account for less than 1% of all newly diagnosed cancers. 8
If you’re interested in learning about what is bone cancer — read on. We’ve put together a guide complete with the different types of bone cancers as well as symptoms to look for, diagnosis details, alternative treatment for bone cancer, and more.
What Is Bone Cancer Called?
Due to the different terminologies and types of bone cancers, we find that many people ask — what is bone cancer called? Primary bone cancers, or malignant bone tumors, are known as sarcomas. Sarcomas can start anywhere in the body — connective tissue, muscle, blood vessels, fat, and bone. The cancers are named based on the part of the bone or nearby tissue that’s infected and the kind of cells that form the tumor. 1,2
The most common primary bone cancer is called osteosarcoma and begins in the bone cells. It occurs most often in individuals between the ages of 10 and 30 years old, though roughly 10% of cases are found in patients in their 60s and 70s as well. Also called osteogenic sarcoma, this cancer is more common in males than females and tends to develop in the arms, legs, or pelvis. 1,2
Chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of primary bone cancer and forms in the cartilage cells. It’s rare in people younger than 20, though the risk of getting it increases with age. This cancer can develop anywhere cartilage is present — mostly in the pelvis, legs, and arms. It can also develop in the trachea, larynx, chest wall, shoulder blade, ribs, or skull. Benign bone cancers called enchondromas and osteochondromas are more common in cartilage than malignant ones. 1,2
Chondrosarcomas are classified by how fast they grow, which is referred to as a grade. The slower a cancer grows reduces its chances of spreading, which means the grade is lower. The majority of chondrosarcoma cases are low grade or intermediate grade sarcomas. Chondosarcomas are further classified into subtypes — dedifferentiated chondrosarcomas, clear cell chondrosarcomas, and mesenchymal chondrosarcomas. 1,2
When discussing what is bone cancer called, it’s important to note that the Ewing tumor is also referred to as Ewing sarcoma. It is the third most common primary bone cancer and most often starts in the bones — though it can also form in other soft tissue, organs, and muscles. The most common sites are the pelvis, chest wall, and long bones of the arms and legs. Ewing sarcoma is rare in adults over age 30 and is most common in children, teens, and young adults. 1,2
Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
Also called pleomorphic undifferentiated sarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma often begins in soft connective tissue like ligaments, tendons, fat, and muscle. It tends to grow locally but will often spread to distant sites such as the lungs. It’s rare in children and most common in middle-aged and elderly adults. When it occurs in bones, it typically affects the legs and arms. 1,2
Fibrosarcoma also develops in soft tissue and mostly affects the bones in the jaw, legs, and arms.
Giant cell tumor of bone
This type of bone cancer has both benign and malignant forms — though the benign forms are the most common. Giant cell bone tumors are most commonly seen in young and middle-aged adults and occur in the legs and arms. Though these cancers don’t often reach other body parts, they can return after surgery and spread to distant sites. 1,2
This bone tumor is usually found at the base of the skull and the spinal bones. It’s more often found in men and develops most in people who are over the age of 30. This type of bone cancer is slow-growing and doesn’t always spread to other body parts. If they are not removed completely, chordomas can come back in the same area; the liver, the lymph nodes, and lungs are common areas for where chordoma spreads. 1,2
Noncancerous Bone Tumors
Some benign tumors can also start in the bone. These noncancerous bone tumors do not spread to organs or tissues and are typically not life-threatening — they usually can be treated with surgery. 1
- Osteoid osteoma
- Chondromyxoid fibroma
Other Types of Cancers Related to the Bone
There are a couple of types of cancers that are found in the bones but don’t start in bones cells. These include non-Hodgkin lymphomas and multiple myelomas. Becoming familiar with these terms will help to understand the questions — what is bone cancer and what is it typically called.
These cancers develop in the lymph nodes but can sometimes start in the bones. In primary non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the bone, lots of bones are involved, which causes it to be a widespread disease. This cancer, however, is not treated as a primary bone sarcoma. Instead, it’s treated in the same way as lymphomas that start in lymph nodes. 1
Multiple myeloma most frequently develops in the bones but is not a primary bone cancer. When answering the question what is bone marrow cancer, multiple myeloma is often discussed, as it forms in bone marrow’s plasma cells. Keep in mind that although it does cause destruction to the bones, multiple myeloma is not a bone cancer. It can first be found as a single tumor in a single bone, but will spread to the marrow of additional bones. 1
What Causes Bone Cancer?
It’s still unclear what causes bone cancer. Most bone cancers are not inherited DNA mutations but instead, are a result of mutations that occur throughout a person’s lifetime. These can be due to cancer-causing chemicals or exposure to radiation but the mutations tend to appear for no reason at all. 3
How is Bone Cancer Diagnosed?
If you’re wondering how is bone cancer diagnosed, in addition to a physical examination, doctors may perform the following:4
- Blood tests
- Bone scan
- CAT scans(computed tomography )
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- PET scan (positron emission tomography)
When these bone scan tests are complete, the doctor will review the results and assign a stage and grade of the bone cancer.
What Does Bone Cancer Look Like?
When a doctor is reviewing tests to see whether or not a patient has bone cancer, he or she will identify abnormalities in the bones. They will look for possible fractures as well as areas of increased bone activity, which can occur with fractures, growths, and malignant tumors. 6
When asking what does bone cancer look like, people often wonder what does bone cancer feel like, too. Let’s cover the symptoms of bone cancer to offer some insight into what it may feel like for a bone cancer patient.
Symptoms of Bone Cancer
When asking what are the symptoms of bone cancer and what does bone cancer feel like, there are three main factors to consider. 5
The most common sign of bone cancer is pain in the affected bone. Initially, this pain is not constant and might be worse when the bone is in use or at night. As cancer progresses, there is constant pain which increases during times of activity. Cancer in the bone is often described by an aching, throbbing, or stabbing type of pain.
Swelling in a painful area can occur, sometimes causing a lump or mass depending on the tumor’s location. If there is cancer in the bones of the neck, it may cause a mass in the throat that causes issues breathing or swallowing.
Bone cancer might weaken the bone it’s in, though the bones do not often break or fracture. When there is a bone fracture next to a bone tumor, people tend to describe a sudden pain in the bone.
Bone Cancer Stages
When considering how fast does bone cancer spread, we must first look into the various bone cancer stages. Bone cancers are staged 1 through 4, and typically, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. Each cancer is unique depending on the individual, as is the rate that it spreads (which means there is no definitive answer as to how fast it will spread).
Bone Cancer Treatment and Recovery
People often ask — how long do you live after being diagnosed with bone cancer? The survival rate for bone cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far the cancer has spread. The overall five-year survival rate for bone cancers in adults and kids is roughly 70%.
Once you know what type of cancer you have and which stage it is in, you can move forward with treatment. Many doctors may suggest traditional cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. These methods are invasive, and at ITC we encourage more holistic treatment methods.
Immunity Therapy Center offers a variety of alternative cancer treatments that are personalized for every patient. These less invasive methods directly target cancer and tumor cells and work to relieve the bone cancer pain you may be experiencing.
On the subject of cancer treatment and recovery, patients and family members also wonder what color ribbon is for bone cancer. A yellow ribbon represents sarcoma or bone cancer — these are loops of ribbon worn to show support and to spread awareness. 3
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the details surrounding bone cancer, if you’re curious about how to treat bone cancer naturally, please visit our treatments page. At ITC, we’re here to help you fight your battle with non-invasive therapies.
Thank you for reading and we look forward to hearing from you.
Written By: Dr. David Alvarez
Dr. David Alvarez is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Xochicalco and Certified by the American Heart Association (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support).
Dr. Alvarez has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista as an Assistant Medical Director at the Immunity Therapy Center for over 6 years. He provides daily on site patient care and participates on the medical board on research and development of patient treatment plans and programs. Dr. Alvarez is a knowledgeable and compassionate Doctor committed to helping patients get to where they want to be health wise through a more holistic and comprehensive approach.
- cancer.org. What is Bone Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/about/what-is-bone-cancer.html
- cancercenter.com. Bone Cancer Types https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/bone-cancer/types
- medicalnewstoday.com. Cancer Ribbons Colors: Chart and Guide https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323448
- cancer.net. Bone Cancer: Diagnosis https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/bone-cancer/diagnosis
- cancer.org. Signs and Symptoms of Bone Cancer https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
- emedicinehealth.com. Bone Cancer https://www.emedicinehealth.com/bone_cancer/article_em.htm#what_facts_should_i_know_about_bone_cancer
- medicinenet.com. What is bone Cancer? What is Metastatic Bone Cancer? https://www.medicinenet.com/bone_cancer_overview/article.htm
- Cancer.gov. Primary Bone Cancer https://www.cancer.gov/types/bone/bone-fact-sheet
- Cancer.org. Bone Cancer Stages https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.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.