Bone Cancer Primary Treatment

Primary bone cancer treatment generally consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy or a combination of these treatments. Options depend on the type of primary bone cancer you have, how advanced the cancer is, your overall health and your preferences. Discuss the options with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment for your individual case.

Bone cancer prognosis depends largely on how advanced the cancer is when found and the type of primary bone cancer. Any prognosis is only a guess; however, the five-year survival rate for all types of bone cancer combined is 70 percent (American Cancer Society, 2010).

This article looks only at primary bone cancer treatment, not bone marrow cancer (leukemia and multiple myeloma) treatment, although bone marrow cancer treatment may also involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or immunotherapy.


The most common treatment for most primary bone cancers is surgery to remove the tumor. The surgeon also removes some of the tissue around the tumor in an effort to eliminate any stray cancer cells (a technique called wide excision). If cancer cells stay behind, the cancer can reoccur and metastasize.

If you need a surgical biopsy to determine if a tumor is cancer, the biopsy and the surgical treatment are separate operations. However, it’s important to plan both surgeries together, preferably with the same surgeon doing both the biopsy and the main surgery (American Cancer Society, 2010).

In the past, if the bone cancer was in an arm or leg, amputation was often necessary. However, new surgical techniques (called limb-sparing surgery) now mean that amputation is rare, and less than 10 percent of patients require amputation (James Cancer Hospital, 2008).

If you have extensive bone surgery, you may need a program of rehabilitation and physical therapy to help you regain your mobility and help eliminate bone cancer pain.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Most chemotherapy is given through a vein, or intravenously (IV), although some chemotherapy may be injected, taken by mouth or applied to the skin. You may receive your chemotherapy at a doctor’s office, at a clinic, in a hospital’s outpatient department or as a patient in a hospital. When and how long you receive chemotherapy depends on your cancer and your treatment plan.

Chemotherapy also kills healthy cells and can have side effects, including nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss and mouth sores. Chemotherapy can damage cells in the bone marrow and lymph nodes, causing low blood cell counts. Low blood cell counts can lead to increased risk of infection, easy bleeding or bruising, fatigue or shortness of breath.


Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Typically, you lie on a table while a radiation machine (linear accelerator) directs beams of radiation into your body at the site of the tumor.

Common side effects of radiation therapy are fatigue and skin changes, including dryness, itching, peeling or blistering. Other side effects depend on the area of the body receiving treatment. Some people are able to work while receiving radiation, while others may need to take time off.


The purpose of immunotherapy is to stimulate the body’s ability to fight cancer. Immunotherapy treatments include interferons, interleukins and colony-stimulating factors.

Side effects of immunotherapy may include:

  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea and appetite loss
  • Rashes or swelling at the injection site.

See your physician if you are experiencing any side effects.


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

Cleveland Clinic. (2010). Cancer treatment: Immunotherapy. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from

James Cancer Hospital