What Is Primary Bone Cancer?

To help you understand what is happening when you have cancer, it helps to know how your body works normally. Our bodies are made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow and multiply when the body needs them and die out when the body does not need them.

Anatomy of a bone
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Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow whether they are needed or not. Bone cancer is cancer that begins in your bones. It is also called primary bone cancer.

Primary bone cancer is different from secondary, or metastatic, bone cancer, which starts in other parts of the body and later spreads to the bones. If the cancer starts somewhere else, it is not called bone cancer. Instead, it keeps the name of the organ from which it spread. Lung cancer that spreads to the bone is still called lung cancer, for example. Almost all types of cancer can spread to bone. But primary bone cancers are quite rare. They are more common in children and adolescents than in adults. This section only deals with primary bone cancer.

Primary bone tumors can be noncancerous (called benign) or cancerous (called malignant). Benign tumors don’t spread and are not life threatening. Cancerous tumors can spread and can be life-threatening. Benign bone tumors occur more often than cancerous bone tumors.

Types of primary bone cancer

Primary bone cancers are called sarcomas. Sarcomas can grow from bone, cartilage, fatty tissue, fibrous tissue, muscle, or nerve tissue.

These are the types of bone cancer you can have:

  • Osteosarcoma. This is the most common primary bone cancer. It usually starts inside the bone and grows through the bone into the surrounding tissues. It starts near where new bone is made. Most people who get this cancer are between 10 and 30 years old. But it can occur at any age. Most tumors occur near the knee or shoulder, but they can occur in any bone.

  • Chondrosarcoma. This is the second most common primary bone cancer. This cancer most often occurs in adults over the age of 50 years. It is most common around the hip and pelvic bones but can occur in any bone. It can also affect the ribs.

  • Ewing sarcoma. This cancer affects mainly children and teenagers. Most Ewing tumors start in bone, but they can also occur in the soft tissues of the limbs, such as in muscles. Ewing sarcoma usually occurs in the thigh bone, pelvis, or shoulder but can occur in any bone.

  • Fibrosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma. These cancers are most commonly found in soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, fat, and muscle around bone, but they can develop in bones. They usually affect the legs, arms, or jaw. Older adults are most likely to get these types of cancers.

  • Giant cell tumors of bone. These tumors are almost always benign, but in rare instances can be cancerous. They most often occur around the knee or shoulder and occasionally other bones. They most commonly affect adults between the ages of 20 and 40 years. There is a soft tissue tumor called Giant Cell Tumor that is not related to this bone tumor.

  • Chordoma. This type of tumor usually grows at the base of the skull or in the sacrum (the bottom of the spine). Less often, it occurs in other parts of the spine. It is most common in adults over the age of 30 years. 

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