Bone Cancer Primary Causes

In general, the causes of cancer are unclear and multifactorial, and primary bone cancer causes are unknown. However, researchers have identified a number of risk factors for primary bone cancer and bone marrow cancer.

A risk factor means that a person is more likely than the general population to develop cancer. However, most people with a risk factor actually never develop cancer.

Primary Bone Cancer

Often, primary bone cancer causes bone pain. According to the Mayo Clinic (2009), people who develop primary bone cancer usually have identifiable risk factors. Three common risk factors are:

  • Paget’s disease: a non-cancerous condition that deforms and weakens the bones and typically occurs in adults over age 40.
  • Radiation treatment: radiotherapy for another type of cancer.
  • Rare genetic syndromes: Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Rothmund-Thompson syndrome, inherited retinoblastoma, and multiple exostoses (multiple osteochondromas).

Osteosarcomas, which start in bone cells, are more common in young adults. The National Cancer Institute (2008) reports that the following people are at higher risk than average of developing an osteosarcoma:

  • Children who have had hereditary retinoblastoma (an uncommon eye cancer)
  • People, especially children, who have received high-dose external radiation therapy or treatment with certain anticancer drugs
  • People with hereditary bone defects
  • People with metal implants that are sometimes used to repair fractures.

Other types of bone cancer are more likely to affect people of certain ages. According to the National Cancer Institute (2008):

  • Chondrosarcoma, which starts in the cartilage, develops mostly in adults over age 40, and the risk increases with age.
  • Ewing sarcoma develops most often in people under 19 years of age, in boys more often than girls, and rarely in African-American children.

Bone Marrow Cancer

Bone marrow cancer is different from primary bone cancer. Bone marrow cancer develops in the cells of the bone marrow and includes various types of leukemia and multiple myeloma.

Leukemia occurs when cells produced in the bone marrow do not develop into mature cells or do not mature correctly. The cause of leukemia is unknown but may be due to a combination of heredity and the environment. The risk factors for leukemia include:

  • Certain drugs used to treat other types of cancers
  • Continuous exposure to hazardous materials used in some types of work, including farming, rubber manufacturing, asbestos work and tire repair
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene and some pesticides
  • Exposure to high doses of radiation.

Multiple myeloma is due to an abnormal growth of plasma cells in the bone marrow. According to the Langone Medical Center at New York University (2009), the cause of multiple myeloma is unknown and the disease is most common in African Americans and those over age 50.


Cancer Treatment Centers of America. (n.d.). Bone cancer risk factors. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Cedars-Sinai. (2010). Leukemia and myeloma. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Langone Medical Center. (2009). Multiple myeloma. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Bone cancer. Retrieved September 23, 2010, from