What are the signs and symptoms of bone cancer?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What are the signs and symptoms of bone cancer?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

Bone cancer can have many different signs and symptoms because there are several types of bone cancer. There is cancer that originates in the bone, called primary bone cancer, and there are tumors that spreads, or metastasizes, from other locations such as the breast, lungs, or prostate, to the bone. This is called metastatic or secondary bone cancer. Primary bone cancer is very rare (only 2500 cases per year) and is more common among children and young adults, but secondary bone cancer is more common among older adults. Multiple myeloma and leukemia are cancers of the bone marrow, the cells within bone that produce blood, so they have different symptoms.

The most common symptom of bone cancer is pain. Bone cancer pain is different than other types of pain because it may worsen at night, or during or after physical activity. It also tends to remain constant, unlike joint or muscle pain that you'd expect to wax and wane. Other signs of bone cancer include:

  • A lump
  • Tenderness in one spot
  • Swelling
  • An unexpected fracture because the bone is weakened
  • Anemia
  • Fever and chills
  • Weight loss

If you're concerned about possible bone cancer, ask your doctor to order scans and blood tests. It's particularly important to insist on tets if you are battling cancer in another area of your body or are a cancer survivor. If tests indicate possible cancer, a bone biopsy may be performed.

Other signs reported by bone cancer patients:

Some of the early signs of bone cancer may be confused with arthritis and other conditions. Some bone cancer patients report:

  • Tenderness and swelling of the joints (from tumors located near the joints)
  • Back pain (breast cancer, for example, often spreads to the spine)
  • Pain in the ribs or pelvic area
  • High blood calcium levels (from bone breaking down)