Bone cancer

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bone cancer, we can provide the information you need, from understanding the cancer itself, to choosing the right treatment, to finding support.

Primary bone cancer is cancer that starts in your bones. It is different from secondary bone cancer. If you're not sure what the difference is or how it affects you, call our helpline on 1 800 200 700.

What you should know about bone cancer

  • Most primary bone cancers are sarcomas.
  • A sarcoma is a cancer that begins in the cells that make up the supporting tissues of your body. For example, your bone, muscle, cartilage and ligaments.
  • The cause of primary bone cancer is unknown. Your risk of developing it increases if you have had previous cancer treatment, certain genetic conditions or bone diseases.
  • The main symptoms of primary bone cancer are pain, swelling, difficulty moving a joint, a limp, weak or numb limbs, and bone fractures (breaks).
  • Primary bone cancer is diagnosed by X-rays, bone scans, biopsy and MRI scan.
  • Treatments for primary bone cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

What are the bones?

Your bones are rigid tissues that make up your skeleton. They help you to move and support and protect the organs in your body. They also store minerals and make red and white blood cells in your bone marrow. As an adult, you have over 260 bones of different shapes and sizes.

Structure of the Bone

What is bone cancer?

  • Primary bone cancer is cancer that starts in your bones. Most primary bone cancers are a type of cancer called sarcoma. A sarcoma is a cancer that begins in the cells that make up the supporting tissues of your body. For example, your bones, muscles, cartilage and ligaments.

Types of primary bone cancer

  • Osteosarcoma: This is the most common form of primary bone cancer. It mainly occurs in children or teenagers. It can affect any bone, but is most common in the bones of your legs and arms.
  • Chondrosarcoma: This can start in your pelvis, thigh, upper arm, shoulder blades or ribs. It is most common in those over the age of 40 years.
  • Ewing´s sarcoma: Ewing´s sarcoma is common in teenagers. It can occur in your legs or pelvis and also in your soft tissues. When it occurs in the soft tissues, it is called a soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Spindle cell sarcoma: These cancers occur in those over the age of 40 and are like osteosarcomas. They include malignant fibrous histiocytoma, fibrosarcoma, leiomyosarcoma, and undifferentiated sarcoma of the bone.
  • Chordoma: This cancer is very rare and usually occurs in those aged between 40 and 60. It can occur in your skull, the bones of your middle face and your spine.
  • Angiosarcoma: This is most common in men over the age of 20. It can affect any bone in your skeleton. It can also affect more than one area at a time or more than one area of the same bone.

How common is bone cancer?

Primary bone cancer is a very rare cancer. There are only a small number of cases diagnosed each year.

Cancer publications

For booklets and factsheets, including information about cancer types, treatments, side-effects, emotional effects, financial information and more. Visit our publications section.

Useful resources

Note: Links to external websites are listed below. The Irish Cancer Society is not responsible for the contents of external websites.

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm