Causes of bone cancer

We have information on the possible causes of primary bone cancer.

Risk factors and causes

The exact causes of primary bone cancer are not known. For most people with bone cancer, it is not clear why it has developed.

Many bone cancers affect teenagers and young people. This might mean that bone cancer is related to changes that happen in growing bones.

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.

Previous cancer treatment

Treatment with radiotherapy or some chemotherapy drugs can increase the risk of developing primary bone cancer many years later. But the risk is very small compared to the benefit of having the cancer treatment.

Genetic conditions

Most bone cancers are not caused by a gene that you can inherit. But some genetic conditions increase the risk of developing certain bone cancers.

People who have Li-Fraumeni syndrome have an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma. Li-Fraumeni syndrome is an inherited condition that increases the risk of several cancers.

Children who have retinoblastoma have an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma. Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer caused by an inherited gene change.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our information about primary bone cancer. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    European Society for Medical Oncology, ESMO. 2021. Bone sarcomas: ESMOeEURACANeGENTURISeERN PaedCan Clinical Practice Guideline for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. S. J. Strauss1 et al. Available at: (accessed July 2023)

    UK guidelines for the management of bone sarcomas, Clinical Sarcoma Research (2016) 6:7. Gerrand C et al on behalf of the British Sarcoma Group. Available at: UK guidelines for the management of bone sarcomas - PMC ( July 2023)

    British Medical Journal, BMJ Best Practice. Osteosarcoma. Last updated May 2022. Last reviewed 27 Jun 2023. Available at: Osteosarcoma - Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment | BMJ Best Practice (accessed July 2023)

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by senior medical editor Fiona Cowie, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2021
Next review: 01 August 2023

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.