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What is primary bone cancer?

Bone cancer can develop as either a primary or secondary cancer. 

Primary bone cancer – 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 – means that the cancer started in another part of the body (e.g. breast or lung) and has spread to the bones.

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 and 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 and shoulder blade; most often occurs in middle-aged and older people; slow-growing form of cancer that rarely spreads to other parts of the body; most are low-grade tumours
Ewing’s sarcoma (about 15% of bone cancers)affects cells in the bone or soft tissue that multiply rapidly and is often associated with a large lump; often affects the pelvis, legs, ribs, spine, upper arms; common in children and young adults; all are high-grade tumours

Some types of cancer affect the soft tissues around the bones. These are known as soft tissue sarcomas, and may be treated differently. For more details, talk to your doctor or 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 June 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Richard Boyle, Orthopaedic Oncology Surgeon, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Sarat Chander, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; James Hyett, Consumer; Rebecca James, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Warren Joubert, Senior Staff Specialist Medical Oncology, Division of Cancer Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Kristyn Schilling, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Cancer Outreach Program, St George Hospital, NSW; Prof Paul N Smith, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Orthopaedics ACT.