Bone cancers can be primary or secondary cancers. The two are quite different and this section is only about primary bone cancer. Your doctor will tell you whether your cancer started in a bone (primary bone cancer) or started elsewhere in your body and spread to the bones (secondary bone cancer). Secondary bone cancer is much more common than primary bone cancer, and your treatment will depend on where the cancer started.
Symptoms of primary bone cancer
The most common symptoms of bone cancer are:
Pain or tenderness in the area of the tumour – This may start as an ache that doesn’t go away. It may be made worse by exercise or feel worse at night when the muscles are relaxed. In children this symptom may be mistaken for a sprain or ‘growing pains’. If a child or teenager has bone pain that persists during the night then it’s always best to have this checked out by their GP.
Swelling around the affected area of bone – The swelling may not show up until the tumour is quite large. It isn’t always possible to see or feel a lump if the affected bone is deep within the body tissues.
Reduced movement – If the cancer is near a joint, this can make it more difficult to move the joint and it can affect the movement of the whole limb. If the affected bone is in the leg, it may cause a limp. If the tumour is in the spine, it may press on nerves, causing weakness or numbness and tingling in the limbs.
Broken bone – Bone cancer is sometimes discovered when a bone that has been weakened by cancer breaks spontaneously or after a minor fall or accident. This is called a pathological fracture.
General symptoms in the body – These may include tiredness, a high temperature or sweats and weight loss. These symptoms are uncommon but sometimes occur in people with Ewing’s sarcoma.
Many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions that are more common than bone cancer. Because of this, it sometimes takes a long time for bone cancer to be diagnosed. Anyone with bone pain that lasts longer than a few weeks with no obvious cause should be referred to a bone specialist (orthopaedic doctor).