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Bone Cancer - Overview

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Bone Cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.

About bones

The human skeletal system is made up of more than 200 bones that protect the internal organs, allow people to stand upright, and attach to muscles, which allow movement. Bones are connected to other bones by ligaments (bands of tough, fibrous tissue), while cartilage covers and protects the joints where bones come together. Bones are hollow and filled with bone marrow, which is the spongy, red tissue that produces blood cells. The cortex is the hard, outer portion of the bone.

See illustrations of the bone.

Bone is a tissue that consists of collagen (a soft, fibrous tissue) and calcium phosphate (a mineral that helps harden and strengthen the bone). There are three types of bone cells:

  • Osteoclasts. These cells break down and remove old bone.
  • Osteoblasts. These cells build new bone.
  • Osteocytes. These cells carry nutrients to the bone.

About bone cancer

Cancer can occur in any part of the bone. Cancer begins when normal cells in the bone change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A bone tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body). Even though a benign tumor does not spread outside the bone, it can grow large enough to press on surrounding tissue and weaken the bone. A malignant tumor can destroy the cortex and spread to nearby tissue. If bone tumor cells get into the bloodstream, they can spread to other parts of the body, especially the lungs.

There are different types of bone cancer, including:

  • Osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma. These are two of the most common types of bone cancer and mainly occur in children and young adults.
  • Chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcoma is cancer of the cartilage and is more common in adults.
  • Chordoma. This is a type of bone cancer that typically starts in the lower spinal cord.

Rarely, soft tissue sarcomas begin in the bone, including:

  • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH). MFH makes up less than 1% of bone tumors and is usually found in adults. An arm or leg, especially around the knee joint, is the most common place for MFH to appear.
  • Fibrosarcoma. This type of soft tissue sarcoma is also more common among adults, particularly during middle age. It most often begins in the thighbone.
  • Paget’s disease of the bone. This disease generally occurs in older adults and involves the overgrowth of bony tissue.    

This section contains information about primary bone cancer (cancer that begins in the bone). However, it is much more common for bones to be the site of metastasis (spread) from other cancers, such as breast, lung, or prostate cancer. Cancer that started in another area of the body and has spread to the bone is called metastatic cancer, not bone cancer. For example, lung cancer that has spread to the bone is called metastatic lung cancer.

For information about cancer that has started in another part of the body and spread to the bone, please see the information for that type of cancer or read the fact sheet about when cancer spreads to the bone.

To continue reading this guide, use the menu on the side of your screen to select another section.  

Bone Cancer - Statistics

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about how many people learn they have this type of cancer each year and some general survival information. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

This year, an estimated 3,020 people of all ages (1,680 men and boys and 1,340 women and girls) in the United States will be diagnosed with bone cancer. It is estimated that 1,460 deaths (830 men and boys and 630 women and girls) from this disease will occur this year. Primary bone cancer accounts for less than 0.2% of all cancers.

In adults, chondrosarcoma makes up more than 40% of primary bone cancers, followed osteosarcoma (28%), chordoma (10%), Ewing family of tumors (8%), and MFH/fibrosarcoma (4%). The remaining types of bone cancers are rare. In teens and children, osteosarcoma and Ewing family of tumors are more common.

The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who survive after the cancer is detected, excluding those who die from other diseases. The five-year survival rate of adults and children for all types of bone cancer combined is about 70%. For adults with chondrosarcoma, the five-year survival rate is about 80%.

Cancer survival statistics should be interpreted with caution. These estimates are based on data from thousands of people with this type of cancer in the United States each year, but the actual risk for a particular individual may differ. It is not possible to tell a person how long he or she will live with bone cancer. Because the survival statistics are measured in five-year intervals, they may not represent advances made in the treatment or diagnosis of this cancer. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society's publication, Cancer Facts and Figures 2014 and the ACS website.

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Bone Cancer - Medical Illustrations

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a basic drawing of the skeleton, which is the part of the body affected by this disease, as well as a close up view of the inside of a bone. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Bone Anatomy

Larger image

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Bone Cancer - Risk Factors

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about what factors increase the chance of developing this type of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors can often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing bone cancer.

Genetics. Children with familial retinoblastoma (an eye cancer) have an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma.

Previous radiation therapy. People who have had radiation treatment for other conditions have a higher risk of developing bone cancer at the site of the radiation therapy. The majority of radiation therapy-caused bone cancers are osteosarcoma, but other types may occur.

Chemotherapy. Some drugs, including alkylating agents and anthracyclines, used to treat cancer may increase the risk of developing a secondary cancer, usually osteosarcoma.

Benign tumors or other bone conditions. Paget’s disease may cause osteosarcoma. Other noncancerous bone diseases, such as fibrous dysplasia, may increase the risk of osteosarcoma.

Currently, there is no known way to prevent bone cancer. Early detection offers the best hope for successful treatment, so people with known risk factors are encouraged to visit the doctor regularly and talk with him or her about it. Still, most bone cancer occurs in people with no known risk factors.

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Bone Cancer - Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

People with bone cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with bone cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign described below, please talk with your doctor.

When a bone tumor grows, it presses on healthy bone tissue and can destroy it, which causes symptoms. The earliest symptoms of bone cancer are pain and swelling in the area in which the tumor is located. The pain may come and go at first, then become more severe and steady later. The pain may get worse with movement, and there may be swelling in the soft tissue nearby. A tumor that occurs near or in joints may cause the joint to swell and become tender or stiff, which means a person may have a limited and painful range of movement.

Symptoms of later-stage bone cancer include a pronounced limp (if the leg is affected) or a fracture (break) in the bone with the tumor. Rarely, people with bone cancer may have symptoms such as fever, generally feeling unwell, weight loss, and anemia (low red blood cell level).

Your doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms you are experiencing to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. This may include how long you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s) and how often.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms and side effects remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section helps explain what tests and scans may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Diagnosis, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Diagnosis

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of the common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors can use to find out what’s wrong and identify the cause of the problem. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and find out if it has metastasized (spread). Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective.

Imaging tests, such as an x-ray, may be used to diagnose bone cancer and find out whether the cancer has spread. Benign and cancerous tumors usually look different on imaging tests (see below). A benign tumor has round, smooth, well-defined borders. A cancerous tumor has irregular, poorly defined border because of aggressive growth. There may also be evidence of bone destruction on an image of a cancerous tumor.

Although imaging tests may suggest a diagnosis of bone cancer, a biopsy will be performed whenever possible to confirm the diagnosis and find out the subtype. For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of cancer. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis. It is extremely important for a patient to be seen by a sarcoma specialist before any surgery or a biopsy is performed.

This list describes options for diagnosing this type of cancer, and not all tests listed will be used for every person. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

  • Age and medical condition
  • Type of cancer suspected
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Previous test results

In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose bone cancer:

Blood tests. Some laboratory tests may help detect bone cancer. Alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase levels in the blood may be higher in patients with osteosarcoma or Ewing’s sarcoma. However, it is important to note that alkaline phosphatase is normally high when cells that form bone tissue are very active (for example, when children are growing or a broken bone is healing), so high levels do not always mean cancer. Abnormal glucose tolerance may be found in people with chondrosarcoma.

X-ray. An x-ray is a way to create a picture of the structures inside of the body using a small amount of radiation.

Bone scan. A bone scan uses a radioactive tracer to look at the inside of the bones. The tracer is injected into a patient’s vein. It collects in areas of the bone and is detected by a special camera. Healthy bone appears gray to the camera, and areas of injury, such as those caused by cancerous cells, appear dark.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors. A CT scan can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. Sometimes, a contrast medium (a special dye) is injected into a vein or given orally (by mouth) to provide better detail.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body. A contrast medium may be injected into a patient’s vein or given orally to create a clearer picture. MRI scans are used to check for any tumors in nearby soft tissue.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan is a way to create picture of organs and tissues inside the body. A small amount of a radioactive substance is injected into a patient’s body. This substance is absorbed mainly by organs and tissues that use the most energy. Because cancer tends to use energy actively, it absorbs more of the radioactive substance. A scanner then detects this substance to produce images of the inside of the body.

Integrated PET-CT scan. This scanning method collects images from both a CT and a PET scan at the same time and then combines the images. This technique helps the doctor look at both the structure and how energy is used by the tumor and healthy tissue. This information can help doctors plan treatment and determine the benefits of different treatments.

Biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. Other tests can suggest that cancer is present, but only a biopsy can make a definite diagnosis. The sample removed during the biopsy is analyzed by a pathologist (a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease). The type of biopsy (needle or incisional) performed depends on where the cancer is located. During a needle biopsy, a small hole is made in the bone, and a tissue sample is removed from the tumor with a needle-like instrument. During an incisional biopsy, the tissue sample is removed after a small cut is made in the tumor. However, sometimes a biopsy may not be able to be performed.

After these diagnostic tests are done, your doctor will review all of the results with you. If the diagnosis is cancer, these results also help the doctor describe the cancer; this is called staging.

The next section helps explain the different stages for this type of cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Stages, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Stages and Grades

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe a cancer’s growth or spread, as well as the way the tumor cells look when viewed under a microscope. This is called the stage and grade. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Staging is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if and where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Doctors use diagnostic tests to determine the cancer's stage, so staging may not be complete until all of the tests are finished. Knowing the stage helps the doctor to decide what kind of treatment is best and can help predict a patient's prognosis (chance of recovery). There are different stage descriptions for different types of cancer.

One tool that doctors use to describe the stage is the TNM system. TNM is an abbreviation for tumor (T), node (N), and metastasis (M). Doctors look at these three factors to determine the stage of cancer:

  • How large is the primary tumor and where is it located? (Tumor, T)
  • Has the tumor spread to the lymph nodes? (Node, N)
  • Has the cancer metastasized to other parts of the body? (Metastasis, M)

The results are combined to determine the stage of cancer for each person. There are five stages: stage 0 (zero) and stages I through IV (one through four). The stage provides a common way of describing the cancer, so doctors can work together to plan the best treatments.

Here are more details on each part of the TNM system for bone cancer:

Tumor. Using the TNM system, the “T” plus a letter or number (0 to 4) is used to describe the size and location of the tumor. Some stages are also divided into smaller groups that help describe the tumor in even more detail. Specific tumor stage information for bone cancer is listed below.

TX: The primary tumor cannot be evaluated.

T0: There is no evidence of a primary tumor.

T1: The tumor is 8 centimeters (cm) or smaller.

T2: The tumor is larger than 8 cm.

T3: There is more than one separate tumor in the primary bone site.

Node. The “N” in the TNM staging system stands for lymph nodes, the tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection. Lymph nodes near where the cancer started are called regional lymph nodes. Lymph nodes in other parts of the body are called distant lymph nodes. Spread to the regional lymph nodes is rare for primary bone cancer.

NX: The regional lymph nodes cannot be evaluated.

N0: The cancer has not spread to the regional lymph nodes.

N1: The cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes.

Distant metastasis. The “M” in the TNM system indicates whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

MX: Metastasis cannot be evaluated.

M0: The cancer has not metastasized.

M1: The cancer has metastasized to another part of the body.

M1a: The cancer has metastasized to the lung.

M1b: The cancer has metastasized to another organ.

Grade. Doctors also describe a cancer by its grade (G), which describes how much cancer cells look like healthy cells when viewed under a microscope. The doctor compares the cancerous tissue with healthy tissue. If the cancer looks similar to healthy tissue and contains many different types of cells grouped together, it is called differentiated or a low-grade tumor. If the cancerous tissue looks very different from healthy tissue, it is called poorly differentiated or a high-grade tumor. The grade of cancer can help the doctor predict how quickly the cancer will spread. In general, the more differentiated the tissue (the lower the grade of the tumor), the better the prognosis.

GX: The tumor grade cannot be identified.

G1: The cancer cells are well differentiated.

G2: The cancer cells are moderately differentiated.

G3: The cancer cells are poorly differentiated.

G4: The cancer cells are undifferentiated.

Cancer stage grouping

Doctors assign the stage of the cancer by combining the T, N, M, and G classifications.

Stage IA: The tumor is low grade (G1 or G2) and 8 cm or smaller (T1). It has not spread to any lymph nodes or to other parts of the body (N0, M0).

Stage IB: The tumor is low grade (G1 or G2) and larger than 8 cm (T2). It has not spread to any lymph nodes or to other parts of the body (N0, M0).

Stage IIA: The tumor is high grade (G3 or G4) and 8 cm or smaller (T1). It has not spread to any lymph nodes or to other parts of the body (N0, M0).

Stage IIB: The tumor is high grade (G3 or G4) and larger than 8 cm (T2). It has not spread to any lymph nodes or to other parts of the body (N0, M0).

Stage III: There are multiple high grade (G3 or G4) tumors in the primary bone site (T3), but they have not spread to any lymph nodes or to other parts of the body (N0, M0).

Stage IVA: The tumor is of any size or grade and has spread to the lung(s) (any G, any T, N0, and M1a).

Stage IVB: The tumor is of any size or grade and has spread to the lymph nodes (any G, any T, N1, and any M), or the tumor is of any size or grade and has spread to another organ besides the lung (any G, any T, any N, and M1b).

Recurrent: Recurrent cancer is cancer has come back after treatment. If there is a recurrence, the cancer may need to be staged again (called re-staging) using the system above.

In general, patients with the best prognosis have:

  • A T1 or T2 tumor
  • A lower grade tumor (G1 or G2)
  • A tumor that is easily removed with surgery, such as those located in an arm or leg
  • A localized tumor that has not spread
  • Certain genetic changes

Used with permission of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this material is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, Seventh Edition (2010) published by Springer-Verlag New York, www.cancerstaging.net.

Information about the cancer’s stage will help the doctor recommend a treatment plan.  The next section helps explain the treatment options for this type of cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Treatment Options, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Treatment Options

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different ways doctors use to treat people with this type of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

This section outlines treatments that are the standard of care (the best proven treatments available) for this specific type of cancer. When making treatment plan decisions, patients are also encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option. A clinical trial is a research study to test a new treatment to evaluate whether it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Your doctor can help you review all treatment options. For more information, see the Clinical Trials section and Latest Research sections.

Treatment overview

In cancer care, different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team.

Descriptions of the most common treatment options for bone cancer are listed below. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Take time to learn about your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.

For a low-grade tumor, the primary treatment is surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy bone or tissue around the tumor to make sure all of the cancer cells are gone.

For a high-grade tumor, oncologists (doctors who specializes in the care and treatment of people with cancer) often use a combination of treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Surgery

Surgery is the removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue during an operation.

A surgical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer using surgery. Surgery for bone cancer often involves a wide excision of the tumor. A wide excision means that the tumor is removed along with a margin of healthy tissue around it in all directions.

If the tumor is in an arm or leg, limb-sparing techniques are used whenever possible. However, amputation (removal) of the arm or leg with the tumor may be needed depending on the tumor’s size and/or location.

Wide excision surgical techniques have reduced the number of amputations performed for patients with bone cancer. About 75% to 80% of patients can be treated with conservative (limb-sparing) surgery compared with amputation. These surgeries often require prostheses, such as metal plates or bone from other parts of the body, to replace the missing bone and provide strength to the remaining bone. This is called reconstructive surgery. Surgeons use soft tissue, such as muscle, to cover the reconstruction area. The tissue helps with healing and reduces the risk of infection.

For some patients, amputation may offer the best option. These include patients whose cancer is located where it cannot be completely removed by surgery, patients who cannot undergo reconstruction, or when the surgical area cannot be fully covered with soft tissue.

Children with bone cancer may require amputation more often than adults since their bones grow more. To avoid amputation, some children can be fitted for expandable joint prostheses that adjust as the skeleton grows. These prostheses require multiple operations to adjust bone length as the child grows.

It’s important to remember that the operation that results in the most useful and strongest limb may be different from the one that gives the most normal appearance. If amputation is needed, rehabilitation that includes physical therapy can help maximize the patient’s physical functioning. Rehabilitation can also help a person cope with the social and emotional effects of losing a limb. Learn more about cancer surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Systemic chemotherapy is delivered through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is given by a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medication. A chemotherapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period of time. A patient may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time. Chemotherapy for bone cancer can usually be given as an outpatient treatment, which is treatment given at a clinic or doctor’s office instead of requiring the patient to be admitted to a hospital.

Surgery alone is not usually enough treatment for patients with some bone cancers, particularly osteosarcoma. These cancers sometimes recur as distant metastases (most often in the lungs) that were most likely very small (only able to be seen with a microscope) when the person was diagnosed. The use of chemotherapy has increased survival rates for people with some types of bone cancer. In addition, chemotherapy is often useful for treating cancer that has visibly spread at the time of diagnosis.

Fast-growing bone cancer may be treated first with chemotherapy before surgery. This often reduces the size of the primary tumor and may destroy tiny areas of metastases if some of the cancer cells have spread to other areas.

Chemotherapy that is given before surgery is called preoperative chemotherapy, neoadjuvant chemotherapy, or induction chemotherapy. For most high-grade tumors, the oncologist gives chemotherapy for three to four cycles before surgery to shrink the primary tumor and make it easier to remove. Chemotherapy before surgery may also improve survival, since it destroys cancer cells that have spread from the original tumor. The tumor’s response to chemotherapy, which is evaluated using a microscope after the primary tumor has been removed, can be used to better determine the prognosis.

After the patient has recovered from surgery, he or she may receive additional chemotherapy to destroy any remaining tumor cells. This is called postoperative or adjuvant chemotherapy. The use of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery combined with chemotherapy after surgery has saved many lives and many patients’ limbs.

Some common chemotherapy drugs given to patients with bone cancer are ifosfamide (Cyfos, Ifex, Ifosfamidum), methotrexate (multiple brand names), cyclophosphamide (Neosar), etoposide (Toposar, VePesid), cisplatin (Platinol), doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and dactinomycin (Cosmegen).

In particular, chemotherapy is very effective for Ewing sarcoma. Some drugs used to treat Ewing sarcoma are vincristine (Vincasar PFS), dactinomycin, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, ifosfamide, and etoposide.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used, but they can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished.

Learn more about chemotherapy and preparing for treatment. The medications used to treat cancer are continually being evaluated. Talking with your doctor is often the best way to learn about the medications prescribed for you, their purpose, and their potential side effects or interactions with other medications. Learn more about your prescriptions by using searchable drug databases.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is a radiation oncologist. The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. When radiation treatment is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. A radiation therapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time.

For bone cancer, radiation therapy is most often used for patients who have a tumor that cannot be removed with surgery. Radiation therapy may also be done before surgery to shrink the tumor, or it may be done after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy makes it possible to do less extensive surgery, often preserving the arm or leg. Radiation therapy may also be used to relieve pain for people as part of palliative care (see below).

For patients with Ewing sarcoma, radiation therapy may be combined with chemotherapy and surgery. However, oncologists have had good results in recent years using surgery for Ewing sarcoma, with or without radiation therapy. Ewing sarcoma that starts in a bone that cannot be surgically removed is treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements. Most side effects go away soon after treatment is finished. Learn more about radiation therapy.   

Getting care for symptoms and side effects

Cancer and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer, an important part of cancer care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.

Palliative care can help a person at any stage of illness. People often receive treatment for the cancer and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. In fact, patients who receive both often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment.

Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, and other therapies. You may also receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the cancer, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment in the treatment plan.

Before treatment begins, talk with your health care team about the possible side effects of your specific treatment plan and supportive care options. And during and after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor or another health care team member if you are experiencing a problem so it is addressed as quickly as possible. Learn more about palliative care

Recurrent bone cancer

A remission is when cancer cannot be detected in the body and there are no symptoms. This may also be called “no evidence of disease” or NED. 

A remission can be temporary or permanent. This uncertainty leads to many survivors feeling worried or anxious that the cancer will come back. While many remissions are permanent, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of the cancer returning. Understanding the risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you feel more prepared if the cancer does return. Learn more about coping with the fear of recurrence.

If the cancer does return after the original treatment, it is called recurrent cancer. It may come back in the same place (called a local recurrence), nearby (regional recurrence), or in another place (distant recurrence).

When this occurs, a cycle of testing will begin again to learn as much as possible about the recurrence, including whether the cancer’s stage has changed. After testing is done, you and your doctor will talk about your treatment options. Often the treatment plan will include the therapies described above (such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy), but they may be used in a different combination or given at a different pace. Your doctor may also suggest clinical trials that are studying new ways to treat this type of recurrent cancer.

People with recurrent cancer often experience emotions such as disbelief or fear. Patients are encouraged to talk with their health care team about these feelings and ask about support services to help them cope. Learn more about dealing with cancer recurrence.

Metastatic bone cancer

If cancer has spread to another location in the body, it is called metastatic cancer. Patients with this diagnosis are encouraged to talk with doctors who are experienced in treating this stage of cancer because there can be different opinions about the best treatment plan. Learn more about seeking a second opinion before starting treatment, so you are comfortable with the treatment plan chosen. This discussion may include clinical trials.

Your health care team may recommend a treatment plan that includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Supportive care will also be important to help relieve symptoms and side effects.

For most patients, a diagnosis of metastatic cancer is very stressful and, at times, difficult to bear. Patients and their families are encouraged to talk about the way they are feeling with doctors, nurses, social workers, or other members of the health care team. It may also be helpful to talk with other patients, including through a support group.

If treatment fails

Recovery from cancer is not always possible. If treatment is not successful, the disease may be called advanced or terminal cancer.

This diagnosis is stressful, and this is difficult to discuss for many people. However, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your doctor and health care team to express your feelings, preferences, and concerns. The health care team is there to help, and many team members have special skills, experience, and knowledge to support patients and their families. Making sure a person is physically comfortable and free from pain is extremely important.

Patients who have advanced cancer and who are expected to live less than six months may want to consider a type of palliative care called hospice care. Hospice care is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. You and your family are encouraged to think about where you would be most comfortable: at home, in the hospital, or in a hospice environment. Nursing care and special equipment can make staying at home a workable alternative for many families. Learn more about advanced cancer care planning.

After the death of a loved one, many people need support to help them cope with the loss. Learn more about grief and bereavement.

The next section helps explain clinical trials, which are research studies. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select About Clinical Trials, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - About Clinical Trials

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about clinical trials, which are the main way that new medical approaches are tested to see how well they work. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors and scientists are always looking for better ways to treat patients with bone cancer. To make scientific advances, doctors create research studies involving volunteers, called clinical trials.

Many clinical trials are focused on new treatments, evaluating whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the current (standard) treatment. These types of studies evaluate new drugs, different combinations of existing treatments, new approaches to radiation therapy or surgery, and new methods of treatment. Patients who participate in clinical trials are often among the first to receive new treatments before they are widely available. However, there is no guarantee that the new treatment will be safe, effective, or better than a standard treatment.

There are also clinical trials that study new ways to ease symptoms and side effects during treatment and manage the late effects that may occur after treatment. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials regarding side effects. In addition, there are ongoing studies about ways to prevent the disease.

Patients decide to participate in clinical trials for many reasons. For some patients, a clinical trial is the best treatment option available. Because standard treatments are not perfect, patients are often willing to face the added uncertainty of a clinical trial in the hope of a better result. Other patients volunteer for clinical trials because they know that these studies are the only way to make progress in treating bone cancer. Even if they do not benefit directly from the clinical trial, their participation may benefit future patients with bone cancer.

Sometimes people have concerns that, by participating in a clinical trial, they may receive no treatment by being given a placebo or a “sugar pill.” The use of placebos in cancer clinical trials is rare. When a placebo is used in a study, it is done with the full knowledge of the participants. Find out more about placebos in cancer clinical trials.

To join a clinical trial, patients must participate in a process known as informed consent. During informed consent, the doctor should list all of the patient’s options so that the person understands how the new treatment differs from the standard treatment. The doctor must also list all of the risks of the new treatment, which may or may not be different than the risks of standard treatment. Finally, the doctor must explain what will be required of each patient in order to participate in the clinical trial, including the number of doctor visits, tests, and the schedule of treatment.

For specific topics being studied for bone cancer, learn more in the Latest Research section.

Patients who participate in a clinical trial may stop participating at any time for any personal or medical reason. This may include that the new treatment is not working or there are serious side effects. Clinical trials are also closely monitored by experts who watch for any problems with each study. It is important that patients participating in a clinical trial talk with their doctor and researchers about who will be providing their treatment and care during the clinical trial, after the clinical trial ends, and/or if the patient chooses to leave the clinical trial before it ends. 

Cancer.Net offers a lot of information about cancer clinical trials in other areas of the website, including a complete section on clinical trials and places to search for clinical trials for a specific type of cancer.

The next section helps explain the areas of research going on today about this type of cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Latest Research, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Latest Research

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors are working to learn more about bone cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

Intraoperative radiation therapy. Clinical trials are evaluating the usefulness of radiation therapy given inside the body during surgery for some Ewing sarcoma tumors. This is called intraoperative radiation therapy or internal radiation therapy.

Myeloablative therapy. A supplement to the treatment options for Ewing sarcoma is myeloablative therapy with stem cell support. Myeloablative therapy, an intense regimen of chemotherapy, destroys all cells that are dividing rapidly. This includes cancer cells but also some healthy cells. Stem cells are cells that create all other types of cells in the body. They may be given to the patient after myeloablative therapy to boost the patient’s recovery.

Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. This type of treatment blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells while limiting damage to normal cells.

A type of targeted therapy being looked at for bone cancer, as well as other types of sarcoma, is called insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGFR) inhibitors. The IGFR is an important growth protein for sarcomas. Blocking its activity may be an important new way to improve sarcoma treatment. Early results look promising, but clinical trials are still ongoing. Some research suggests that combining an IGFR inhibitor with other targeted therapies, such as an mTOR inhibitor, may be a more effective treatment. An mTOR inhibitor blocks the protein mTOR, which is another growth protein for sarcomas. Learn more about targeted treatments.

Supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current bone cancer treatments in order to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

The next section addresses how to cope with the symptoms of the disease or the side effects of its treatment. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Coping with Side Effects, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Coping with Side Effects

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about steps to take to help cope with physical, social, and emotional side effects. This page includes several links outside of this guide to other sections of this website. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of cancer, but it may help to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your health care team. This is called palliative or supportive care, and it is an important part of the overall treatment plan, regardless of the stage of disease.

Common side effects from each treatment option for bone cancer are described in detail within the Treatment Options section. Learn more about the most common side effects of cancer and different treatments, along with ways to prevent or control them. Side effects depend on a variety of factors, including the cancer’s stage, the length and dosage of treatment(s), and your overall health.

Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor about possible side effects of each type of treatment you will be receiving. Ask which side effects are most likely to happen, when they are likely to occur, and what can be done to prevent or relieve them. And, ask about the level of caregiving you may need during treatment and recovery, as family members and friends often play an important role in the care of a person with bone cancer. Learn more about caregiving.

In addition to physical side effects, there may be psychosocial (emotional and social) effects as well. Patients and their families are encouraged to share their feelings with a member of their health care team who can help with coping strategies. Learn more about the importance of addressing such needs, including concerns about managing the cost of your cancer care

During and after treatment, be sure to tell the health care team about the side effects you experience, even if you feel they are not serious. Sometimes, side effects can last beyond the treatment period, called a long-term side effect. A side effect that occurs months or years after treatment is called a late effect. Treatment of both types of effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the After Treatment section or talking with your doctor.

The next section helps explain medical tests and check-ups needed after finishing cancer treatment. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select After Treatment, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - After Treatment

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is finished and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

After treatment for bone cancer ends, talk with your doctor about developing a follow-up care plan. This plan may include regular physical examinations and/or medical tests to monitor your recovery for the coming months and years. For bone cancer, follow-up care typically includes general physical examinations, blood tests, and imaging tests (such as a bone scan, CT scan, or x-rays) to check for signs that the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor about any new symptoms, such as swelling or bone pain, because they may be signs that the cancer has come back or signs of another medical condition.

ASCO offers cancer treatment summary forms to help keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

Patients who have had surgery for bone cancer, particularly amputation, often need physical therapy and other types of rehabilitative therapies. Follow-up care should also address the patient’s quality of life, including social and emotional concerns, especially if amputation was necessary. Learn more about cancer rehabilitation.

People recovering from bone cancer are encouraged to follow established guidelines for good health, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, eating a balanced diet, and having recommended cancer screening tests. Talk with your doctor to develop a plan that is best for your needs. For bone cancer survivors who smoke, quitting smoking may help recovery and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Learn more about tobacco.

Moderate exercise can help you rebuild your strength and energy level. Talk with your doctor about helping you create an appropriate exercise plan based upon your needs, physical abilities, and fitness level. Learn more about the next steps to take in survivorship, including making positive lifestyle changes.

The next section offers a list of questions you may want to ask. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Questions to Ask the Doctor, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Questions to Ask the Doctor

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some questions to ask your doctor or other members of your health care team to help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Talking often with the doctor is important to make informed decisions about your health care. These suggested questions are a starting point to help you learn more about your cancer care and treatment. You are also encouraged to ask additional questions that are important to you. You may want to print this list and bring it to your next appointment, or download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for an e-list and other interactive tools to manage your care.

  • What type of bone cancer do I have?
  • What stage is the bone cancer? What does that mean?
  • What is the grade? What does that mean?
  • Where exactly is the cancer located?
  • Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What clinical trials are open to me?
  • Which treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?
  • What is the expected timeline for my treatment plan?
  • Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do?
  • Who will be coordinating my overall treatment and follow-up care?
  • What are the possible side effects of this treatment, both in the short term and the long term?
  • If needed, what types of rehabilitative services are available?
  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
  • Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
  • Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins?
  • If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my cancer care, who can help me with these concerns?
  • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will I need them?
  • What support services are available to me? To my family?
  • Whom should I call for questions or problems?

The next section offers some more resources that may be helpful to you. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Additional Resources, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.  

Bone Cancer - Additional Resources

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some helpful links to other areas of Cancer.Net that provide information about cancer care and treatment. This is the final page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Bone Cancer. To go back and review other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Cancer.Net includes many other sections about the medical and emotional aspects of cancer, both for the person diagnosed and their family members and friends. This website is meant to be a resource for you and your loved ones from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond. Here are a few sections that may get you started in exploring the rest of Cancer.Net:

This is the end of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Bone Cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select another section, to continue reading this guide.