Primary bone cancer is rare, making up around 0.2 percent of all cancers, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Researchers say the onset could be linked to hereditary factors, but a specific cause is not known. The majority of bone tumors are noncancerous. In many cases, when cancer is found in the bone it is secondary -- the tumors spread or metastasized from somewhere else and are thus not categorized as bone cancer. Bone cancer, or cancer that has reached the bones, has a variety of symptoms.


Pain is usually the first symptom of bone cancer. Initially, it will be mild and intermittent, often occurring at night or after engaging in physical activity. Over-the-counter medications can usually ease the pain. Over time, however, sensation increases as the disease progresses, eventually becoming a persistent ache. Describing the type of pain as aching, stabbing, throbbing, or burning will help a physician prescribe the right pain relief medications and may help diagnosis.

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Tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation

When bone cancer affects the nerves inside the bone, individuals describe a tingling, numb, or burning sensation. Nerve pain can be difficult to describe to a physician because it is unlike the usual types of pain. Bone cancer disrupts the normal activity of bone cells, irritating the interior nerves, injuring the nerve fibers, and increasing nerve sensitivity. Oncologists say that once the tumors interact with the nerves inside the bone, the tumor size increases, worsening these symptoms.

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Joint stiffness and swelling

Bone cancers often develop near or in a joint in the upper arms or legs. Not only does the area around the joint become tender, but the tumor also causes stiffness, which affects the range of motion. Swelling and redness then develop in the area where the pain first developed, usually several weeks later. The individual may notice a lump or mass near the area as well. A physician will check the area for swelling and tenderness and changes in the surrounding skin.

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Weakened bones and fractures

In most cases, bone tumors develop in the long bones of the upper arms and legs, and the pelvis. The tumors are usually benign but can be malignant. Cancer weakens the bone where the tumor exists and may cause fractures. Some individuals develop a noticeable limp or experience a sudden onset of severe pain in a bone that was previously sore, and this could be a sign of bone cancer. In some cases, x-rays for other conditions such as sprained ankles or knee injuries uncover benign tumors. Fractures in cancer-weakened bones can occur next to or through the bone tumor itself.

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Low back pain

Bone cancer occurring in the pelvis may cause lower back pain and sciatica. Back pain is a widespread issue for adults, and this can delay a diagnosis of pelvic bone cancer. Individuals over the age of 45 are the demographic most commonly diagnosed with pelvic cancer, and diagnosis is often preceded by painful symptoms that last longer than a month. Affected people develop a sudden onset of back pain or sciatica that occurs primarily at night and becomes increasingly worse and unresponsive to changes in position or bed rest. Because there is no traumatic injury, most therapies to treat back pain are ineffective.

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Most people with cancer contract a fever at some point. Although fever is rarely an early sign of bone cancer, it is a sign that the body is fighting an infection or illness. If cancer affects the immune system, it is harder for the body to fight off the infection. Fevers may signify that cancer has spread or is in an advanced stage. If pain accompanies the fever, or if it exceeds 103 F, seek medical attention.

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Fatigue leaves people feeling exhausted after the simplest activities, and sleep does not improve the condition. Fatigue is an early symptom of most cancers, including bone cancer. Pain levels and anemia contribute to fatigue. However, medical professionals believe that anemia is directly related to the effects cancer has on the central nervous system, muscle-energy metabolism, and circadian rhythms. Poor nutrition can also contribute to fatigue in people with bone cancer.

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Night sweats

Some types of cancer cause night sweats, medically known as sleep hyperhidrosis. Overheating during sleep does not cause night sweats. Researchers believe the symptom has a connection with the hormonal changes that occur when diseases such as bone cancer affect the body. Night sweats could be the body's attempt to fight off cancer or a reaction to stress or anxiety. Fevers can also lead to sweating.

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Loss of appetite and weight loss

Another sign of bone cancer is the unintended loss of ten pounds or more. Weight changes and muscle loss are common cancer symptoms. Research shows that the body produces substances called cytokines, proteins created by both immune and non-immune cells, to fight off cancer. The production of cytokines causes a decrease in appetite, which leads to poor nutrition in addition to weight and muscle loss. Cachexia is a condition that causes extreme weight loss and muscle wasting, and is commonly seen in advanced cases of cancer.

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Bone cancer affecting the bone marrow may cause anemia, the lack of a healthy level of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Cancer interferes with the production of red blood cells, and low levels of hemoglobin prevent the body from getting the oxygen it needs. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue and weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, chest pains, irregular heartbeats, and lightheadedness. A physician can test for red blood cell levels using a complete blood count (CBC) test.

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Difficulty in urination

Bone cancer that affects the pelvic bones can put pressure on nearby organs, leading to various urinary symptoms. Individuals may experience difficulty urinating, pain during urination, or even blood in the urine. These urinary issues can be indicative of bone cancer's impact on the pelvic region. The patient should make an appointment with a doctor for diagnosis.

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Changes in bowel habits

In cases where bone cancer affects the pelvic area, changes in bowel habits can occur. Individuals may experience constipation, diarrhea, or other alterations in their typical bowel movements. These changes may result from the tumor's pressure on the intestines or other nearby organs.

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Vision problems

Bone cancer that affects the bones around the eye sockets can give rise to a range of vision-related problems. The eye sockets, or orbits, house the eyeballs and are surrounded by bones. When a tumor develops in this region, it can exert pressure on the optic nerves, blood vessels, and other structures that are vital for proper eye function. Individuals with bone cancer in the orbital bones may experience blurred or double vision. Some may notice changes in the appearance of their eyes or develop eye discomfort. These vision problems can be alarming and distressing, as they significantly impact one's quality of life.

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Hearing loss

Bone cancer that affects the bones of the skull can result in hearing problems. These issues typically arise when the tumor exerts pressure on the auditory nerves or impacts other vital structures of the ear. Individuals with bone cancer may notice a gradual loss of hearing or experience sudden changes in their ability to hear sounds clearly. These hearing difficulties can be concerning since they affect daily life, communication, and overall well-being.

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Swollen lymph nodes

Bone cancer can sometimes lead to swollen lymph nodes in the regions near the affected bone. Lymph nodes are tiny, bean-shaped structures that play a vital role in the body's immune system. Swollen lymph nodes are typically a sign that the immune system is responding to an underlying issue, such as an infection or the presence of abnormal cells. Swollen lymph nodes can be palpable, meaning they can be felt under the skin, and they may be tender or painless. Their size can vary, and they may be localized or affect multiple areas of the body. The nuances that come with bone cancer are many and cause adverse effects on the patient's overall quality of life. Early detection and guided decision making are key to navigating the condition and turning the tide. For that, we need regular screenings and readiness to collaborate with healthcare professionals to building a healthier future.

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