Jefferson University Hospitals

Bone Cancer

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Your bones may feel hard, but their structure includes a spectrum of hard to soft tissues, any of which may be affected by bone cancer. Bone cancer refers to any malignant (cancerous) cells or tumors originating in these tissues versus cancer that starts in other parts of the body and metastasizes (spreads) to the bone. Called “primary bone cancer,” this disease can be life-threatening, but it is also very rare, accounting for less than one percent of all cancers in the U.S.

Bone Cancer Symptoms

The most common symptoms of bone cancer include persistent or unusual pain or swelling in or near the bone. The discomfort often starts out as a subtle ache and gradually progresses to a deep, nagging pain. Another symptom is a mass or lump that can be felt in the affected area. Sometimes, cancerous bones are weakened by the disease resulting in an increased tendency for bones to fracture (break).

Risk Factors for Bone Cancer

  • Children and adolescents under age 20
  • People who have had previous high-dose radiation therapy treatment or chemotherapy treatment with drugs known as alkylating agents
  • Having the gene mutation known as the retinoblastoma (Rb) gene
  • Hereditary bone disease or defects
  • People who have chronic inflammatory diseases, e.g. Paget’s disease

Types of Bone Cancer

The following types of primary bones cancers are most common:

  • Osteosarcoma – Cancer in the osteoid (hard, compact) tissues, most often in the knee and upper arm. This type of cancer occurs mainly in children between 10 and 19 years old.
  • Chondrosarcoma – Cancer in the cartilaginous (tough, flexible) tissues that pad the ends of bones and joints, most often in the pelvis, upper leg and shoulder. This type of cancer occurs mainly in adults over age 40.
  • Ewing Sarcoma – Cancer in the bone’s soft tissues and marrow, most often along the backbone, pelvis and in the legs and arms. This type of cancer occurs most often in children under 19 years old, and boys are affected more than girls.

How Bone Cancer is Diagnosed

Our team of musculoskeletal oncology specialists including pathologists, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson work as a team with the orthopedic experts at Jefferson’s Rothman Institute to confirm your diagnosis. Our thorough examinations begin with a discussion about your symptoms and a review of your medical history. We’ll then conduct a series of diagnostic imaging and blood tests to determine if, where and what type of malignant tumor you may have in your bone. Tissue and bone sample biopsies are also very accurate tests for detecting cancerous cells.

Genetic Testing

If you think you may be at an increased risk of developing bone cancer because of your genetics, the experts at Jefferson's Clinical Cancer Genetics Service provides genetic risk assessment, genetic counseling and genetic testing.

Treatment Options

Our bone cancer specialists and orthopedic surgeons will develop a personalized treatment plan based on your cancer’s type, location and size. Your treatment plan will also depend on whether your cancer is localized or if it has spread, as well as your age and physical condition. Some treatments are designed to completely remove the cancer from your bone. Other treatments focus on slowing down the cancer’s growth. Some aid in preventing recurrence of the disease. Your treatment plan often includes an integrated approach using multiple techniques including:

  • Surgery – Removing the entire tumor, if possible, and some of the surrounding tissue. In many cases, doctors can remove the tumor, leaving the bone intact or grafting bone from another area of the body. In the vast majority of cases, Jefferson doctors are able to perform limb-salvage surgery so that our patients can continue to maintain their lifestyles.
  • Chemotherapy – Using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy – Also called IMRT, this therapy uses external energy to kill cancer cells
  • Brachytherapy – Inserting radioactive implants directly into the tissue to kill cancer cells

Why Choose Jefferson for Bone Cancer?

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson is your Philadelphia area resource for nationally-recognized oncology expertise. We’re ranked as one of the nation’s best hospitals for cancer treatment U.S.News & World Report, and we’re one of only 69 National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the U.S. 

Jefferson’s Sarcoma and Bone Tumor Center functions as one of the nation’s few complete sarcoma centers, and studies show that sarcoma patients who are treated at specialized centers have better overall outcomes than those who are not. In addition to being a BlueCross/Blue Shield Blue Distinction Center for complex and rare cancers based on our surgical case volume, our world-renowned researchers are pioneering new approaches to cancer treatments and designing effective cancer prevention strategies.

At Jefferson, we not only offer our patients best-in-class prostate cancer medical services, our compassionate care includes a support program to meet your emotional and psychological needs, too.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are the best way patients can receive new therapies and procedures. To find out if a clinical trial might be right for you, ask your health care provider or contact the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Clinical Research Management Office at 215-955-1661.

Next-Day Appointments Available

Call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) to speak with a JEFF NOW® representative who will schedule an appointment for you.