An abnormal growth of cells within the bone that may be benign or malignant (cancerous).

Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors

The cause of bone tumors is unknown. They may arise in areas of rapid growth. Other theories site heredity, trauma, and radiation as other possible causes.
Bone tumors may be benign or malignant. Osteochondromas are the most common benign bone tumors and occur most often in people between the ages of 10 and 20. Some benign bone tumors regress on their own and do not require treatment. These benign tumors are monitored periodically by X-ray.
Malignant bone tumors occur as a primary bone tumor, or as metastasis, cancer spread from another area of the body. Primary bone tumors are rare (less than 1% of all malignant tumors) and are more common in young men. Malignant bone tumors include osteosarcomas, Ewing's sarcoma, fibrosarcoma, and chondrosarcoma. Metastatic lesions to the bone usually arise from cancer of the breast, lung, prostate, kidney, and thyroid. These forms of cancer usually affects older people.
Bone cancer was prevalent among individuals who painted radium on watch faces (to produce glow-in-the-dark dials), a practice that was abandoned at mid-century. The painter would 'tip' the brush with their tongue (in order to produce fine work) and absorb minute amounts of radium which deposited in the bone and caused cancer. The incidence of bone cancer is also increased in families with a history of familial retinoblastoma. The incidence of bone cancer in children is approximately 5 cases per million children each year.


  • bone pain, may be worse at night
  • occasionally a mass can be felt at the tumor site if the disease is advanced
  • leg pain

Note: Some benign tumors have no symptoms.

Signs and Tests

This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:



Benign bone tumors may not require treatment, but may be assessed periodically to check for progression or regression.
Primary malignant tumors require surgical removal, with a 3-inch margin of normal tissue and lymph node resection. Often, an affected limb may need to be amputated. Radiation therapy may be indicated before and after the surgery. Chemotherapy is often given after surgery.
Treatment for metastatic malignant tumors depends upon the primary tissue or organ involved. Radiation therapy with chemotherapy or hormone therapy is commonly used.

Expectations (Prognosis)

Prognosis varies depending on the type of tumor. The outcome is expected to be good for people with benign tumors, although some types of benign tumors may eventually become malignant. With malignant bone tumors, survival varies from 50 to 75%.


Calling Your Health Care Provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms develop that is suggestive of bone tumors.


The cause of bone tumors is unknown; therefore prevention is unknown.

Support Groups

The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.

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