Primary bone cancer is rare. About 600 people are diagnosed with it in the UK each year. It can affect people of any age. It is slightly more common in men than women.
It is different from a cancer that has spread to the bones from somewhere else in the body. This is called secondary bone cancer and is much more common than primary bone cancer. Your doctor will tell you whether you have primary or secondary bone cancer.
We have separate information about secondary bone cancer.
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The exact causes of primary bone cancer are not known. For most people with bone cancer, it is not clear why it has developed.
There are certain things that can affect the chances of developing primary bone cancer. These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get bone cancer. People without risk factors can also develop bone cancer.
We have more information about risk factors and causes of bone cancer.
You may have some of the following tests to diagnose bone cancer:
You may have an x-ray of the affected bone. This can give information about whether a cancer started in the bone and is a primary bone cancer, or has spread from another part of the body and is a secondary cancer. It may also help the doctor tell which type of bone cancer it is.
We have more information about diagnosing bone cancer that explains more about these and other tests for bone cancer.
Waiting for test results can be a difficult time, we have more information that can help.
The results of your tests give your cancer specialist information about:
- the stage of the cancer - its size and whether it has spread outside the bone
- the grade of the cancer – how the cancer cells look under the microscope, which give an idea of how the cancer might grow or spread.
We have more information about staging and grading bone cancer.
Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain how it may help plan your treatment.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.
The following treatments may be used to treat bone cancer. Most people need a combination of these treatments. We have more information about treating bone cancer that explains when each treatment may be used.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Most people with primary bone cancer will have chemotherapy as part of their treatment. It may be given before or after surgery or to treat cancer that comes back.
You may be invited to take part in a clinical trial of a new drug or treatment.
If bone cancer comes back
For many people with early-stage bone cancer that has not started to spread, it will never come back after treatment.
If the cancer comes back in the lungs or in a bone, it is sometimes possible to have an operation to remove it. This would be done to try to cure the cancer. Chemotherapy may be given before and after the operation.
If it is not possible to cure the cancer, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be given. The aim is to control the cancer for as long as possible and to help relieve symptoms.
Many people recover well after treatment for primary bone cancer. Some people take longer and need extra help. Before you go home, the hospital staff will talk to you about your recovery.
If you are worried about going home, talk to the hospital staff before you leave. They can arrange any help and support you might need at home.
After your treatment finishes, you will have regular check-ups with your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. They will tell you how often and for how long you will need to have these.
It will depend on the type of treatment you had and the risk of the cancer coming back. We have more information about follow-up after treatment.
You may have regular tests to check for any signs of the cancer coming back. These may include chest x-rays, blood tests and sometimes MRI scans. If you have had chemotherapy, you may have regular scans to check your heart. You will usually have these for a few years.
Coping with body changes
After treatment, your body may not look or feel the same to you. You may have scars from surgery. There may be changes in how you move. If you have had an arm or leg removed, the change in your body may be very noticeable to you.
It can be harder to cope with losing an arm than a leg. A prosthetic leg can often be covered by wearing trousers, but a prosthetic arm cannot be covered so easily.
Feeling like you look different from other people can affect your self-confidence. At times, you may even wish you had never had the operation.
At first, you may feel shocked and upset. But these feelings usually improve as you adapt and learn how to manage the changes. Each person is different in how long this takes.
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