Primary bone cancer, or cancer that originates in bone, is relatively rare, but occurs more often in children than adults. However, cancer that spreads or metastasizes to bone is much more common across all ages. In fact, some forms of cancer commonly spread to bone, such as thyroid, prostate, lung, or breast cancer. In addition, while cancer may originate from or spread to any bone, the arms and legs are most commonly affected. Where and how the disease manifests generally determines what symptoms of bone cancer may be experienced.
Unlike other cancers that are specific to certain organs and named as such according to its location in the body, bone cancers are generally referred to collectively as sarcomas. However, there are three distinct types of primary bone cancers: chondrosarcoma, which usually affects the cartilage of the pelvis, hip joint, or shoulder; osteosarcoma, which usually occurs in the upper arm or knee; and Ewing’s sarcoma, which typically occurs in the bone or nerve tissue of the legs, arms, pelvis, or backbone. Of these, osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma are more likely to occur in young people between the ages of 10 and 25 years. Chondrosarcoma, on the other hand, is found almost exclusively in older patients.
Unfortunately, symptoms of bone cancer may not appear in a significant manner until the disease has advanced. In addition, many types of this cancer develop slowly over a long period of time, which may prompt the patient to attribute his or her symptoms to an age-related condition instead, such as arthritis. Other factors that influence the signs of bone cancer are its specific location and tumor size.
The most commonly reported symptom is general pain in the affected bone, which may be described as dull and aching, or as a sharp and stabbing. Pain may also be intermittent. Sometimes, a lump or growth may emerge from the cancer site that is not accompanied by pain. Unfortunately, this too may be ignored in the belief that the growth may be a cyst. Finally, it is not uncommon for a patient to experience no symptoms of bone cancer at all.
There may be other symptoms of bone cancer that may occur other than pain, however. First, unexplained swelling of a limb or joint may indicate that a tumor is present. Sometimes, fatigue, fever, and unexplained weight loss may occur. In addition, the appearance of bone tumors may cause an excess level of calcium circulating in the bloodstream, which can produce nausea and bouts of mental confusion. Finally, the affected bone may become more susceptible to fracture, which may explain why many arm and leg bone cancers are detected while examining x-rays taken after a fall or injury.