Symptoms and diagnosis of bone cancer


The symptoms of primary bone cancer will vary and depend on the bone and area of your body that is affected. The symptoms can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty moving a joint
  • A limp
  • Weakness or numbness in your limbs
  • A fracture or bone break due to bone weakness

Even though these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, do have them checked by your doctor.


Testing for primary bone cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national primary bone cancer screening programme in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. Talk to your GP if you feel you or your family are at risk.


First visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital specialist. At the hospital you might need some of the following tests:

  • Bone X-rays
  • Bone scan
  • MRI scan
  • Bone biopsy

Bone X-rays: An X-ray helps your doctor to diagnose and treat medical conditions. The X-ray is done by exposing your body to a small dose of radiation to make pictures of your bones.

Bone scan: For this test, a very small amount of a mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. A scan is then taken of all the bones in your body. Because abnormal bone absorbs more of the radioactive substance than normal bone, it can show up on the scan.

MRI scan: This is a special scan that uses magnetic energy to build up a picture of the tissues inside your body. The MRI scan can look at any part of your body. You may get an injection beforehand to show up certain areas.

Bone biopsy: In a bone biopsy, a small sample of bone is taken from your body and looked at under a microscope for cancer cells. The sample can be removed by putting a needle through your skin and directly into your bone. You will be given a local anaesthetic and sedation beforehand.

Other tests

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Bone marrow biopsy

The above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

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