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Learning About Bone Sarcomas

Common places for bone sarcomas, including above and below the knee and on the upper arm

What is a bone sarcoma?

A bone sarcoma is a kind of tumour—a growth of abnormal cells in the bones. When the tumour grows out of control and destroys nearby tissue or spreads to other parts of the body, it's called malignant. That means it's a type of cancer.

Sarcoma is another name for a malignant bone tumour.

Bone cancer can spread to other parts of the body, like the lungs or lymph nodes.

What are some common types of bone sarcomas?

The most common types of bone sarcomas include:

Osteosarcoma.

This tumour often appears in the wider ends of bones, in the knee, shoulder, and sometimes the pelvis.

Chondrosarcoma.

This is a cancer of the cartilage. It's often found in the pelvis, upper leg, shoulder, and long bone shafts (the middle of bones).

There are other, less common bone tumours as well.

What are the symptoms?

You may feel pain near the tumour.

You may feel swelling or a lump over the bone. If your tumour is near a joint, like your shoulder, hip, or knee, you may not be able to move your arm or leg freely.

Bone tumours can weaken your bones. Sometimes bones with tumours can break.

How are they diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and your past health. He or she will also examine you. If your doctor can feel a bone tumour or if you have other symptoms, you will get some tests. The tests can find out if it's cancer. They can also help your doctor figure out the best treatment for the tumour.

Your doctor may also find a tumour when taking X-rays or images for another problem.

  • You may have one or more imaging tests to get a better look at the tumour. These may include:
    • X-rays.
    • CT scan.
    • MRI scan.
    • PET scan.
    • Bone or other nuclear scan.
  • You may need blood tests and other lab work. This might include genetic testing.
  • You may need a biopsy so a sample of the tumour can be looked at under a microscope. This sample may also be used to test for substances in your body that might indicate cancer (biomarkers), which will help with planning treatment.
  • Doctors may also examine other parts of your body to see if the tumour has spread.

The doctor may talk to you about what "stage" your cancer is. The stage refers to how large the tumour is and how far it has spread. It also includes the tumour grade, which describes what the cancer cells look like and how likely they are to grow and spread.

These can help the doctor find out what type of treatment you may need. And it may help to find a clinical trial that has treatments for your type of cancer.

How is bone cancer treated?

You may need surgery to remove cancer from the bone or to remove part of the bone. Depending on how much bone is removed, you may need a bone graft or metal part to replace the bone.

When cancer is found in the arm or leg, surgery can remove the cancer in most cases and save the arm or leg. But in a few cases, removing all the cancer requires amputation (removing part of the arm or leg).

You may have chemotherapy (chemo). Chemo is medicine that destroys cancer cells.

Radiation therapy is used to treat some bone cancers. It uses high-energy rays, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours in the body. It may also be used along with surgery or after surgery.

Other treatments, including immunotherapy and targeted therapy, may be used to treat certain types of bone tumours.

What are some other things to think about?

  • Some tumours are aggressive and need treatment right away. But most cancer grows slowly enough that you can take a little time to find out more about your cancer as you decide about treatment.
  • Think about getting a second opinion from another doctor. Before you start major treatment, it's a good idea to check with another doctor about the type of cancer you have and the stage of your cancer. Your doctor can recommend someone for a second opinion.
  • Ask any questions you might have. You can talk to your doctor, nurses, counsellors, and other advisors.
  • Talk to family, friends, and supporters. Get the kinds of help you need.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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