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What is bone cancer?

Bone cancer can start as a primary or secondary cancer. The 2 types are different and this information is only about primary bone cancer. We have separate
information on secondary bone cancer.

Primary bone cancer – This means that the cancer starts in a bone. It may develop on the surface, in the outer layer or from the centre of the bone. As a tumour grows, cancer cells multiply and destroy the bone. If left untreated, primary bone cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Secondary (metastatic) bone cancer – This means that the cancer started in another part of the body (e.g. breast, lung) and has spread to the bone.

Types of primary bone cancer

There are more than 30 types of primary bone cancer. The most common types are:

osteosarcoma (about 35% of bone cancers)starts in cells that grow bone tissue; often affects the arms, legs or pelvis, but may occur in any bone; occurs in children and young adults with growing bones, and older people in their 70s and 80s; most are high-grade tumours
chondrosarcoma (about 30% of bone cancers)starts in cells that grow cartilage; often affects the bones in the upper arms and legs, pelvis, ribs or shoulder blades; most often occurs in adults aged over 40; slow growing; rare types can spread to other parts of the body; most are low-grade tumours
Ewing sarcoma (about 15% of bone cancers)affects cells in the bone or soft tissue that multiply rapidly; often affects the pelvis, legs, ribs, spine or upper arms; most common in children and young adults; are high-grade tumours

Cancer that affects the soft tissues around the bones is known as soft tissue sarcoma, and may be treated differently. For more information call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Featured resources

Sarcoma (Bone and soft tissue tumours) - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Primary Bone Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed January 2023 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Peter Choong AO, Orthopaedic Surgeon, and Sir Hugh Devine Professor, St Vincent’s Hospital, and Head of Department of Surgery, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Catherine Chapman, Adolescent and Young Adult and Sarcoma Cancer Specialist Nurse, Division of Cancer and Ambulatory Support, Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Paul Craft AM, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital and Australian National University, ACT; Belinda Fowlie, Bone Tumour Nurse Practitioner Candidate, SA Bone and Soft Tissue Tumour Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Prof Angela Hong, Radiation Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and Clinical Professor, The University of Sydney, NSW; Vicki Moss, Nurse Practitioner, SA Bone and Soft Tissue Tumour Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; A/Prof and Dr Marianne Phillips, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist and Palliative Care Physician, Perth Children’s Hospital, WA; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Stephanie Webster, Consumer.