Bone Cancer (Sarcoma of Bone): Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2020

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing primary bone sarcoma. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Most often, bone sarcomas are not related to any particular risk factor. 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. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

Although most cancers are not related to any known risk factor, the following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing bone sarcoma:

  • Genetics. Children with familial retinoblastoma, which is a type of eye cancer, have an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma. People with a history of sarcoma in their family, as is seen with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, are also at high risk for osteosarcoma. Researchers are finding genes that are passed from generation to generation that give people a higher risk of developing osteosarcoma than the general population. All of these conditions are rare.

  • Previous radiation therapy. People who have had radiation treatment for other conditions have a higher risk of developing bone sarcoma at the site of the radiation therapy. Bone sarcomas related to radiation therapy appear many years, even decades, after the treatment, so it is a good idea to watch for any symptom arising in an area previously treated with radiation, even if you are an adult and were treated as a child. The majority of sarcomas caused by radiation therapy include angiosarcoma, undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (UPS) of soft tissue, or osteosarcoma, but other types may occur.

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

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

Prevention

Different factors cause different types of cancer. Researchers continue to look into what factors cause bone sarcoma, including ways to prevent it. Currently, there is no known way to prevent bone sarcoma.

Early detection offers the best chance for successful treatment, so people with known risk factors are encouraged to visit the doctor regularly and discuss their personal risk for developing bone sarcoma. This includes people with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, retinoblastoma, or other conditions in which the risk of sarcoma is inherited. Talk with your health care team for more information about your personal risk of cancer. Still, most bone sarcomas occur in people with no known risk factors.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems bone sarcoma can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.