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Bone Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Bone Cancer

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Updated May 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bone cancer is a malignant condition that can affect both children and adults. The term "bone cancer" encompasses several different types of the disease, therefore bone cancer symptoms can vary. As a whole, bone cancer is categorized based on whether the cancer originated in the bone (primary) or whether it spread from another location to the bone (secondary). Secondary bone cancer, or cancer that has spread to the bone from another part of the body, is much more common than primary bone cancer.

Bone Cancer Symptoms

Bone cancer symptoms may vary based on the type of bone cancer, but pain is the most commonly experienced symptom. Bone cancer most often occurs in the long bones of the body (arms and legs), so these are the most common sites for pain. Keep in mind that not all bone tumors are cancerous; some are benign. Bone pain is more often related to a benign condition, like an injury, than it is to cancer.

Other symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • joint tenderness or inflammation
  • fractures due to bone weakness
Non-specific symptoms like fever, unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and anemia can also be symptoms of later stage bone cancer, but are also indicators of other less severe conditions.
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What To Do If You Have Bone Cancer Symptoms

If you are experiencing bone pain or think you may have bone cancer, it is important to see your doctor. Express your concern over bone cancer early, so the doctor can address these thoughts right away. Keep in mind that bone cancer is not common, so your symptoms are much likely to be related to a much less serious condition. Your doctor will most likely want to rule out other conditions before attempting to diagnose bone cancer.

What Symptoms May Prompt a Doctor to Investigate Further

Chronic symptoms like bone pain, tenderness, inflammation, or loss of range of motion that does not return may prompt your doctor to seek additional tests to investigate the cause of the symptoms. In the bone cancer diagnostic process, x-rays, MRI, and bone scans are all possible imaging tests that a doctor may order. The findings from these tests are what will make a doctor suspect bone cancer.

Ultimately, it is a bone biopsy that will rule out or confirm the presence of cancer. A bone biopsy involves the removal of a small amount of bone tissue to be examined under a microscope. It usually takes less than an hour and can be done as an outpatient or surgical procedure.

Doing a biopsy on someone with primary bone cancer can be complex, because there is a risk of spreading the cancer during the procedure. The procedure should be done by a surgeon who has experience performing bone biopsies on those with suspected bone cancer. It's important to note that biopsies can be a common way to worsen these cancers and potentially spread into other tissues when performed by someone who is inexperienced.

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