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Early Signs of Bone Cancer: What You Should Know

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated May 19, 2021

Early Signs of Bone Cancer: What You Should Know

Early intervention has become key to surviving cancer, especially for certain types such as bone cancer. To ensure better health outcomes for patients, increased awareness of early signs of bone cancer, particularly among people with a history of the disease in the family, is a must. Needless to say, it is important to take the necessary steps in cancer prevention, such as adopting a healthier lifestyle and eating a balanced diet. 

Here are the best types of food to strengthen bones.

early signs of bone cancer

Types of Bone Cancer

Bone cancer refers to the unusual and uncontrolled growth of cells in the bone. When this occurs, it destroys normal bone tissue. It may start in the bone, and from there, metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. This type of cancer affects both children and adults. Bone cancer occurs in any bone in the body. But it is most commonly found in the long bones of the arms and legs.

Bone cancer, however, is uncommon and makes up just one percent of all kinds of cancer. Most growths in the bone are benign. However, the tumors may weaken or break bones, or cause other bone-related health issues. 

Common types of benign bone tumors include: 


This is the most common type of bone tumor, and usually occurs in people under 20. A giant cell tumor is usually found in the leg, and maybe cancerous in rare cases.

Osteoid osteoma

This tumor often grows in the long bones, and usually afflicts people in their early 20s.


This is a rare tumor that occurs mostly in young adults and grows in the spine and long bones.


This type usually appears in the bones of the hands and feet, and is the most common type of hand tumor.

There are two types of bone cancer:

  • Primary. Primary bone cancer, or bone sarcoma, is a cancerous tumor.
  • Secondary. This type of cancer refers to bone cancer that begins in another part of the body. Secondary cancer is actually more common than primary bone cancer, and is commonly caused by lung, breast, or prostate cancers.

The types of bone sarcoma are:


This is the most common type of bone cancer and often forms around the knee, upper arm, and pelvis. It is common among teens and young adults. This type of bone cancer involves osteoblast activity. Osteoblasts are responsible for bone formation and design.

Ewing’s Sarcoma

This can be found in patients as young as 5 up to 20 years old. This type of cancer can start in the soft tissue around the bones. It is most commonly found in the ribs, pelvis, leg, and upper arm. 


This type of cancer affects older people, between ages 40 and 70. This particular cancer often starts in the cartilage cells and occurs commonly in the hip, pelvis, leg, arm, and shoulder.

Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma

This can occur in the arms and legs but often starts in the soft tissue.

Fibrosarcoma Chordoma

This also starts in the soft tissue, but may also begin in the arms, legs, or jaw.


This is more commonly found occurring in the spine and base of the skull.

Signs and Symptoms

Learning about the early signs of bone cancer can help people determine whether they are at risk or not. Early signs of bone cancer include:


This is the most common early sign of bone cancer. This usually starts with a feeling of tenderness in the affected bone. The pain may be mistaken for arthritis, or simply growing pains in children and teens. The pain may not be constant in the beginning, but may worsen at night, or with physical activity. 

Pay attention when the leg starts to hurt after walking or running. If the cancer grows, the pain will increase and will become more frequent. Pain around the area of the tumor may feel dull or achy, and it may feel worse with activity. Some individuals experience pain that makes it difficult for them to sleep. 


The area where the pain occurs may get inflamed, but may not be evident until weeks later. A lump or mass may grow, depending on the location of the tumor. When cancer occurs in the bones of the neck, this may cause a lump in the back of the throat. This may affect swallowing and cause breathing difficulties.


Bone cancer can weaken the affected bone, though most of the time the bones will not break. Sudden severe pain in the bone might signal a fracture next to or through a bone tumor.  

Numbness, Tingling, or Weakness

These symptoms may occur when the cancer in the bones of the spine affects the nerves.

Unexplained Weight Loss and Fatigue

This may happen when bone cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors

There is no known cause of bone cancer, but experts agree that genes may play a role in its occurrence. Other factors that increase the risk of bone cancer are:

Cancer Treatment

People who have undergone radiation or stem cell transplants, or have taken certain chemotherapy drugs for other forms of cancer have a higher risk of developing bone tumors. 

Hereditary Conditions

Some diseases that have been passed down the genetic line may raise the likelihood of bone cancer in some family members. These include:

  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, a genetic disorder that predisposes people to certain types of cancer
  • Retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer
  • Multiple exostoses, a genetic condition that causes bumps on the bones and heightens the chances of developing chondrosarcoma
  • Rothmund-Thomson Syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by skin rash, sparse hair, malformed bones, and a higher risk of cancer, particularly osteosarcoma

Paget’s Disease of the Bone

Though considered a benign bone condition, this illness may increase the odds of a person developing bone cancer.

Bone Marrow Transplant

Undergoing this procedure may increase the possibility of developing osteosarcoma.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors will first request for X-ray of your affected bone. Other tests will then include…

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron-emission tomography (PET)
  • Bone scans
  • Blood tests can check for two enzymes, which help determine cancer

What Happens if a Bone Tumor is Found?

If a tumor is confirmed, a biopsy can check whether the tumor is benign or cancerous. The biopsy can also help determine whether the cancer is primary or secondary and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. If the doctor detects bone cancer, it is then graded and staged by a pathologist. Various treatments can then be undertaken, depending on the type and severity of bone cancer.

If patients pay attention to the early signs of bone cancer and seek treatment immediately, there is a greater chance of recovery. Experts estimate that 75% of people with bone cancer live up to at least five years after diagnosis. Like most cancer treatments, protocols for bone cancer may affect other parts and functions of the body, including fertility. It is important to consult a doctor and watch out for complications to ensure that cancer does not recur.

Bone Cancer Care and Support in the Philippines

Cases of bone cancer in the Philippines are few, and record-keeping must be improved to reflect the occurrence of bone cancer in the country. Since bone cancer may be mistaken for other conditions, cancer awareness should cover early signs of bone cancer to encourage early intervention. 

Cancer treatment in the Philippines is quite costly, and often patients are unable to take advantage of numerous medical advances in cancer treatment. However, the government is creating more laws to provide greater access to cancer treatment.

People with cancer can avail of the National Health Insurance Program under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and seek financial assistance from government agencies such as the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation. Non-government organizations, such as the Philippine Cancer Society and Andres Soriano Foundation, also assist cancer patients.

People with early signs of bone cancer, or other forms of cancer, can seek guidance through the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, which provides a list of hospitals that offer free consultations with medical oncologists, cancer support groups, and organizations that provide financial assistance.

Key Takeaways

Surviving bone cancer requires knowing the early signs of bone cancer and seeking early intervention. Learn as much about the disease as possible, seek guidance through various specialists and support groups, and take advantage of sources of financial assistance to ensure positive health outcomes.

Learn more about Cancer here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated May 19, 2021

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