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. The pain may get worse over time, but there are lots of ways of managing pain.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have pain:

  • in one or more areas that lasts for more than 1 to 2 weeks
  • when you are moving
  • that wakes you up at night.

Weak bones

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

Raised calcium level

Secondary cancer in the bone may cause increased amounts of calcium to 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.

If you develop any of these symptoms, contact the hospital straight away for advice.

Pressure on the spinal cord

Secondary 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 controlling your bladder or bowel.

If you have weakness, pain, tingling or numbness in your legs or arms, it is very important to tell your doctor or specialist nurse straight away so your symptoms can be checked. The earlier MSCC is diagnosed, the better the chances are of the treatment helping.

If you cannot contact your specialist team and you develop weakness in your legs or arms or problems controlling your bowel or bladder, go to your local emergency department (A&E) straight away.

Effects on the blood

Sometimes 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 does not 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 secondary bone cancer

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.