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Bone cancer is cancer that occurs in your bone cells, not to be confused with leukemia, which is cancer of the bone marrow. Bone cancer takes two forms, primary and secondary. Primary bone cancer starts within the actual bone itself and is quite rare compared to secondary. Secondary bone cancer is due to cancer elsewhere in the body spreading to the bones.
In the body, old cells are continually being broken down and replaced with new ones. If there is an abnormality in the new cell, causing it to grow and replicate much quicker, a tumor may start growing. There are both benign and malignant tumors that grow in the cells of the bone. Benign tumors are not cancerous and will not spread to other tissues, while malignant ones will. Benign tumors can often be cured through surgery.
There are several different types of primary bone cancer. They are named based on what type of bone cell has the cancer and the area of the bone or surrounding tissue where it is found. Each type has different characteristics and is treated differently. Malignant bone cancers are commonly called sarcomas.
The most common type of bone cancer is osteosarcoma, which starts in cells that are growing new tissue. In the body, it is most commonly found in the knees, arms or pelvis. It often occurs in young people up to the age of 30, in males more than females. It is rare in middle age and has a very low incidence in adults in their 60s and 70s. Osteocarcoma usually spreads to other parts of the body, particularly the lungs.
Chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of bone cancer. This cancer starts in the cartilage cells, so it can develop anywhere that there is cartilage. In most cases, this is a slow growing cancer, so it is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body before being treated. Chondrosarcoma is rare in young people, but the risk increases from age 20 up to about 75. Men and women have an equal chance of having this type of primary bone cancer.
The third most common type of primary bone cancer is Ewing’s Sarcoma. Ewing’s Sarcoma tends to start within the cavities of bones, particularly the legs, pelvis and chest wall, but they can start in other tissues. This bone cancer is prevalent in children and young adults under the age of 30. The cancer grows very quickly allowing it to spread to other organs and tissues throughout the body.
Chordomas are a type of primary bone cancer that is found in the base of the skull or the vertebrae that make up the spine. It tends to be slow-growing, but if not treated carefully and completely removed, it will come back repeatedly to the same area. It is uncommon in people under 30 and men are about twice as likely as women to develop this bone cancer.
There is no single factor that can be said to cause bone cancer. While bone cancers are often diagnosed after an injury to a bone, the injury is not the cause of the cancer, just an indicator. There are several risk factors for developing bone cancer, including having a genetic disposition, having had benign bone tumors or non-cancerous bone disease and undergoing previous radiation or chemotherapy treatment, especially when young. Some people will develop primary bone cancer without having any of these risk factors.
The most common symptom of bone cancer is pain in the affected area. Initially, the pain may be intermittent, but as the tumor grows, it will become worse and occur more often. Swelling may occur around the cancer, usually weeks after the pain has started. Because of the location of the tumor, it is often difficult to feel an actual lump due to bone cancer. Detecting bone cancer is not easy and it is often diagnosed by a biopsy of the painful area.