About Bone Cancer

What should people know about bone cancer?

Bone is a hard connective tissue that makes up the skeleton and provides shape to the body. Bone provides support and protects many of the body's fragile organs. Most bones start out as cartilage, a firm rubbery tissue that cushions bones and joints. After the bone is formed, some cartilage may remain at the ends to serve as a cushion between bones, such as in the knee or shoulder.

Many types of cancer (such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer) frequently spread to the bones. This is called metastasis. This fact sheet only includes information about cancer that began in the bone (called primary bone cancer); cancers that began in other parts of the body and spread to the bone (metastases) are not included.

There are a number of different types of bone cancer. The most common types are osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, and Ewing sarcoma.

  • Osteosarcoma, also called osteogenic sarcoma, is the most common type of bone cancer. It accounts for about 35% of bone cancers in the US. Osteosarcoma often occurs in the ends of the long bones of the arms and legs, where new tissue forms as young adults grow. It occurs most often in young people (ages 10 to 30), but can occur in older people.
  • Chondrosarcoma is cancer of the cartilage and is the second most common type of bone cancer. It accounts for about 25% of all bone cancers in the US. Chondrosarcoma is rare in young people, occurring mostly in adults age 50 and over. Chondrosarcomas usually occur in cartilage around the pelvis, knee, shoulder or upper part of the thigh.
  • Ewing sarcoma is the third most common type of bone cancer, and the second most common type among children. It usually occurs in the shaft of the bone, most often in the hip, ribs, upper arm and thigh. Ewing sarcoma mostly affects children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 30. Ewing sarcoma accounts for about 15% of bone cancers in the US.

Each year in New York State, about 140 men and 100 women (including children) are diagnosed with bone cancer. About 50 men and 35 women, again including children, in New York die of the disease each year.

Who gets bone cancer?

Although bone cancer can occur at any age, two of the most common types (osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma) occur primarily in children and young adults. Certain types of bone cancer, such as osteosarcoma, are more common among men than women. Ewing sarcoma occurs most frequently in Whites and is very rare in Blacks and Asians.

What factors increase risk for developing bone cancer?

At this time, the causes of bone cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Hereditary conditions and family history. People with certain inherited diseases (Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Rothmund-Thomson syndrome) are at increased risk for bone cancer. Children who have had hereditary retinoblastoma (a rare cancer of the eye) are at greater risk of developing bone cancer.
  • Ionizing radiation. Exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation (such as radiation treatment for other cancers) increases the risk of getting bone cancer.
  • Paget's disease. People with Paget's disease, a condition of abnormal bone growth, are at increased risk for bone cancer.

What other risk factors for bone cancer are scientists studying?

Scientists are studying other possible risk factors for bone cancer such as bone marrow transplantation and genetic changes. They are also examining the role medical implants or injuries may have in the development of bone cancer. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of bone cancer.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting bone cancer?

To help reduce the risk of getting bone cancer:

  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.

How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?

The following may help reduce the risk of developing cancer:

  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

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