Signs and symptoms of secondary bone cancer

Bone pain

The most common symptom of secondary cancer in the bone is pain. The amount of pain will vary from person to person, but it usually gets worse over time.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have pain in one or more areas that lasts for more than 1 to 2 weeks.

Weak bones

Cancer in the bones can weaken them. Sometimes a bone weakened by cancer will break (fracture). This may happen even if you haven’t had an accident or fall. This is known as a pathological fracture.

Raised calcium level

If you have secondary cancer in the bone, increased amounts of calcium may be released from the bone into your blood. A raised level of calcium in the blood is called hypercalcaemia. Hypercalcaemia may show up on a routine blood test. But it can also cause symptoms, which may include:

  • tiredness
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • constipation
  • increased thirst
  • confusion.

Pressure on the spinal cord

Secondary bone cancer in the bones of the spine can put pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord. This is called malignant spinal cord compression (MSCC). It can cause symptoms which may include:

  • back or neck pain
  • muscle weakness
  • numbness and weakness in the legs
  • problems with the bowel and bladder

If you have weakness, pain, tingling or numbness in your legs, it’s very important to tell your doctor or specialist nurse straight away so that your symptoms can be checked. The earlier MSCC is diagnosed, the better the chances are of treatment being effective. If you cannot contact your specialist team, you should attend your local accident and emergency department without delay.

Effects on the blood

Occasionally, secondary cancer in the bone can affect the way the bone marrow works.

The bone marrow produces different types of blood cells:

  • red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body
  • white blood cells, which help to fight infection
  • platelets, which help the blood to clot and prevent bleeding.

If the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, you may become anaemic. This can make you feel tired and breathless. If you have too few white blood cells, you will be more prone to infection. And if you have a low platelet count, you may have bruising or bleeding.

Back to Understanding

The bones

The human skeleton is made up of more than 200 bones that support and protect the body.

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.