Bone cancer (sarcoma)

Primary bone cancer is a tumour that starts growing inside a bone.

Cancer that spreads from another part of the body into surrounding bone is known as secondary bone cancer.

The most common symptom of bone cancer is bone pain that usually gets worse over time and can feel more painful during the night.

Read more about the symptoms of bone cancer.

If you or your child is experiencing persistent bone pain that lasts for more than three days, visit your GP. While it is highly unlikely to be the result of bone cancer, it does require further investigation.

Types of bone cancer

All types of bone cancer are very rare. The four most common types (although still very rare in general terms) are described below.


Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer. Most cases develop in teenagers and young adults, but you can get it at any age.

Osteosarcoma usually develops in the larger bones such as the thigh bone (femur) or the shin bone (tibia).

Ewing's sarcoma

Ewing's sarcoma is most common in teenagers, although it can also develop in adults.

Ewing's sarcoma usually develops in the pelvis, thigh bone or shin bone.


This type of bone cancer usually develops in adults aged between 30 and 60.

It mostly affects the pelvis, thigh bone, upper arm bone, shoulder blade (scapula) and the ribs.

Spindle cell sarcoma

Spindle cell sarcoma is very similar to osteosarcoma in terms of its symptoms and treatment, but it affects older adults aged 40 or over.

Treating bone cancer

The treatment plan for most cases of bone cancer is to use a course of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour and surgery to remove the affected area of bone.

In the past this often meant that a section of a limb, such as the lower leg, had to be surgically removed (in an amputation), but today it is often possible to retain the limb by replacing the affected bone with a metal implant. This is known as limb-sparing surgery.

Read more about treating bone cancer.

The outlook for bone cancer depends on whether the cancer has spread from the bone to other parts of the body.

It's easier to cure if the cancer has not spread (known as localised bone cancer). If it has spread (most commonly to the lungs or bone marrow), it can be harder to treat. This is known as metastatic bone cancer.

Read more about the outlook for people with bone cancer.

What causes bone cancer?

The reason why a small minority of people develop bone cancer is still unclear.

Known risk factors include:

  • previous exposure to radiation, such as radiotherapy
  • a condition known as Paget’s disease of the bone, where the normal cycle of bone growth is disrupted – however, less than 1% of people with Paget’s disease will actually develop bone cancer

Read more about the causes of bone cancer.

© Crown Copyright 2009

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here.