Most bone tumors are benign (not cancerous). Benign tumors are usually not life-threatening and, in most cases, will not spread to other parts of the body. Depending upon the type of tumor, treatment options are wide-ranging—from simple observation to surgery to remove the tumor.
Some bone tumors are malignant (cancerous). Malignant bone tumors can metastasize—or cause cancer cells to spread throughout the body. In almost all cases, treatment for malignant tumors involves a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
Bone tumors can affect any bone in the body and develop in any part of the bone—from the surface to the center of the bone, called the bone marrow. A growing bone tumor—even a benign tumor—destroys healthy tissue and weakens bone, making it more vulnerable to fracture.
When a bone tumor is cancerous, it is either a primary bone cancer or a secondary bone cancer. A primary bone cancer actually begins in bone—while a secondary bone cancer begins somewhere else in the body and then metastasizes or spreads to bone. Secondary bone cancer is also called metastatic bone disease.
Types of cancer that begin elsewhere and commonly spread to bone include:
Primary Bone Cancer
The four most common types of primary bone cancer are:
- Multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is the most common primary bone cancer. It is a malignant tumor of bone marrow—the soft tissue in the center of many bones that produces blood cells. Any bone can be affected by this cancer.
Multiple myeloma affects approximately seven people per 100,000 each year. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 130,000 people are living with the disease each year. Most cases are seen in patients between the ages of 50 and 70. Multiple myeloma is typically treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and, occasionally, surgery.
- Osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is the second most common primary bone cancer. It occurs in two to five people per million each year, with most cases in teenagers and children. Most tumors develop around the knee in either the femur (thighbone) or tibia (shinbone). Other common locations include the hip and shoulder. Osteosarcoma is typically treated with chemotherapy and surgery.
- Ewing’s sarcoma. Ewing’s sarcoma usually occurs in patients between the ages of 5 and 20. The most common locations affected are the upper and lower leg, pelvis, upper arm, and ribs. Ewing’s sarcoma is typically treated with chemotherapy and either surgery or radiation therapy.
- Chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcoma is a malignant tumor composed of cartilage-producing cells. It is most often seen in patients between the ages of 40 and 70. Most cases occur around the hip, pelvis, or shoulder area. In most cases, surgery is the only treatment used for chondrosarcoma.
Benign Bone Tumors
There are many types of benign bone tumors, as well as some diseases and conditions that resemble bone tumors. Although these conditions are not truly bone tumors, in many cases they require the same treatment.
Some common types of benign bone tumors—and conditions that are commonly grouped with tumors—include:
- Non-ossifying fibroma
- Unicameral (simple) bone cyst
- Giant cell tumor
- Fibrous dysplasia
- Aneurysmal bone cyst
- Osteoid osteoma