What Causes Bone Cancer?

The exact cause of most bone cancers is not known. Still, scientists have found that bone cancers are linked to a number of other conditions, which are described in the section on risk factors. Still, most people with bone cancers do not have any known risk factors. Research is underway to learn more about the causes of these cancers.

Scientists have made great progress in understanding how certain changes in a person’s DNA can cause normal cells to become cancer. DNA carries the instructions for nearly everything our cells do. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than just the way we look. It may influence our risks for developing certain diseases, including some kinds of cancer.

DNA is divided into units called genes. Genes carry the recipes for making proteins, the molecules that determine all cell functions. Some genes contain instructions to control when our cells grow and divide.

  • Genes that promote cell division are called oncogenes
  • Genes that slow down cell division or make cells die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes

Cancers can be caused by DNA mutations (defects) that activate oncogenes or inactivate tumor suppressor genes. Some people with cancer have DNA mutations that they inherited from a parent. These mutations increase their risk for the disease.

The DNA mutations that cause some inherited forms of bone cancers are known. (See Risk Factors for Bone Cancer) In many cases, genetic testing can be used to see if someone has one of these mutations.

Most bone cancers are not caused by inherited DNA mutations. They're the result of mutations during the person’s lifetime. These mutations may result from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals, but most often they occur for no apparent reason. These mutations are present only in the cancer cells, so they cannot be passed on to the person’s children.

Scientists are making progress in understanding this process, but there are still some points that are not completely understood. As they learn more, they hope to find ways to better prevent and treat bone cancers.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: February 5, 2018

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