Bone Cancer: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2018

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

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. 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, which is a type of eye cancer, have an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma. People with a history of sarcomas in their family, as is seen with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, are also at high risk for osteosarcomas. 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 cancer at the site of the radiation therapy. The majority of radiation therapy-caused sarcomas include angiosarcoma and 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.


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

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 cancer. This includes people with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, retinoblastoma, or other conditions in which sarcomas are inherited. Talk with your health care team for more information about your personal risk of cancer. Still, most bone cancer occurs 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 cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.