Signs and Symptoms of Bone Cancer

The information here focuses on primary bone cancers (cancers that start in bones) that most often are seen in adults. Information on Osteosarcoma, Ewing Tumors (Ewing sarcomas), and Bone Metastasis is covered separately.

There are different types of primary bone cancer. Signs and symptoms depend mainly on the type, location, and extent of the cancer.

Pain

Pain in the area of the tumor is the most common sign of bone cancer. At first, the pain might not be there all the time. It may get worse at night or when the bone is used, such as when walking for a tumor in a leg bone. Over time, the pain can become more constant, and it might get worse with activity.

Sometimes a tumor can weaken a bone to the point where it breaks (fractures), which can cause a sudden onset of intense pain (see Fractures below).

Lump or swelling

Some bone tumors cause a lump or swelling in the area, although this might not happen until sometime after the area becomes painful.

Cancers in the bones of the neck can sometimes cause a lump in the back of the throat that can lead to trouble swallowing or breathing.

Fractures

Bone cancer can weaken the bone, but most often the bones do not fracture (break). People with a fracture next to or through a bone tumor usually describe sudden severe pain in a bone that had been sore for a few months.

Other symptoms

Cancer in the bones of the spine can press on the nerves coming out of the spinal cord. This can cause numbness and tingling or even weakness in different parts of the body, depending on where the tumor is.

Bone cancer, like many other types of cancer, can sometimes cause weight loss and fatigue.

If the cancer spreads to other organs, it can also cause other symptoms. For instance, if the cancer spreads to the lungs, it might result in a cough or trouble breathing.

Bone cancer isn’t common, and the symptoms it can cause are more likely to be due to other conditions, such as injuries or arthritis. Still, if you have symptoms that go on for a long time or get worse, it’s important to see a doctor so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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.

Anderson ME, Dubois SG, Gebhart MC. Chapter 89: Sarcomas of bone. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.

Hornicek FJ, McCarville B, Agaram N. Bone tumors: Diagnosis and biopsy techniques. UpToDate. 2020. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/bone-tumors-diagnosis-and-biopsy-techniques on August 28, 2020.

Last Revised: June 17, 2021

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