Bone Cancer Facts

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bone cancer, you may have some questions: What is bone cancer? Are there different bone cancer types? What is the survival rate? The following common questions and answers will help you understand some basic bone cancer facts.

Q: What is the difference between primary and secondary bone cancer?

A: Primary bone cancer is a malignant tumor that initially develops in the bone. This cancer is rare, making up only about 0.5 percent of all cancers in the United States and about 5 percent of all cancers in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.).

Secondary bone cancer, also called bone metastasis, is cancer that has spread to the bone from another location. Even with the cancer in the bone, doctors still classify and treat the cancer based on where it started. For example, lung cancer that spreads into the bone is still considered and treated as lung cancer.

Q: What is bone marrow cancer?

A: The center of most long bones is a sponge-like material called bone marrow. Bone marrow is responsible for making most of the blood cells in the body. Bone marrow cancer is cancer that develops in the stem cells of the bone marrow. Bone marrow cancer includes various types of leukemia and multiple myeloma.

Q: Are all primary bone cancers the same?

A: No. Many types of malignant tumors can form in bone. The three most common are:

  • Chondrosarcoma: This cancer forms in the cells of cartilage. Cartilage is fibrous tissue usually at the ends of bones where they come together at a joint.
  • Ewing sarcoma: This cancer is most often found in the bones of the spine, pelvis and limbs.
  • Osteosarcoma: This cancer forms in the cells of the hard outer surface of the bone.

Q: What are the symptoms of bone cancer?

A: Although not all bone cancers cause pain, pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer. Other possible symptoms of bone cancer include swelling, fractures (due to weakened bones), fatigue, fever, weight loss or anemia (from too little iron or decreased red blood cell production).

Q: What are the treatments for bone cancer?

A: For bone cancers, types of treatment include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Surgery to remove the tumor is the most common treatment, although you may receive combined treatments. Your treatment depends on the type, size and location of the tumor, how advanced the cancer is, your age and your general health.

Q: What is the prognosis and survival rate for bone cancer?

A: A prognosis is nothing more than a guess made by a healthcare provider based on statistics. The problem with any prognosis or look at survival rates is that they are based on other people and have nothing to do with you as an individual. The bone cancer facts around survival rates are that they vary depending on the type of bone cancer and how advanced it was when found. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for all bone cancers combined is about 70 percent (2010).


American Cancer Society. (2010). Bone cancer. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from

Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (2009). Bone cancer treatments – conventional treatments. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Questions and answers about bone cancer. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from

National Cancer Institute. (2008). Bone cancer: Questions and answers. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from