Bone cancer

More than 300 new cases of primary bone cancer are diagnosed in Australia every year.

What is bone cancer?

Primary bone cancer is cancer that begins in the bones, and is classed as a rare cancer. It occurs when bone cells multiply rapidly and begin to break down the bone.

Secondary bone cancer, which is a type of cancer that spreads to the bone from another part of the body, is more common.

Cancer in the bones is not sex-specific, although it is slightly more common in people assigned male at birth. It is estimated that more than 300 people were diagnosed with bone cancer in 2022.

What are the types of bone cancer?

There are over 30 different types of primary bone cancer, the most common are:

  • Osteosarcoma, which affects cells that grow bone tissue
  • Chondrosarcoma, which grows in the cartilage
  • Ewing's sarcoma, which affects cells in the bone or soft tissue that multiply rapidly.

What are the common symptoms of bone cancer?

  • Swelling/pain around the bone
  • Stiffness/tenderness in the bone
  • Problems with movement
  • Weakened bones leading to breaks/fractures
  • Exhaustion
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Loss of feeling in the affected limb

Although bone cancer is rare, it’s important to visit you GP if you are experiencing these symptoms.

How is bone cancer diagnosed?

A GP will carry out an initial examination before deciding if further tests are necessary.

You may then be referred for an X-ray of the affected area. If this shows any abnormalities, you’ll be referred to a specialist such as an orthopaedic surgeon or a bone cancer specialist.

The specialist may decide to carry out a biopsy, which involves taking a sample of affected bone (either with a needle or via surgery under general anaesthetic) to be sent to a laboratory for testing.

If the results of the biopsy confirm or suggest bone cancer, further tests such as MRI scans, CT scans, bone scans or bone marrow biopsies will be required to assess how far the cancer has spread.

Bone cancer is usually graded as ‘localised’ (the cancer contains low-grade cells; found in the bone in which it started) or ‘advanced’ (the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).

What is the prognosis for bone cancer?

A prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the person’s age and health. Many cases of localised bone cancer have a good chance of being cured.

References

Our bone cancer researchers

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