Bone tumor

Toggle: English / Spanish


A bone

is an abnormal growth of cells within a bone. A bone tumor may be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous ().

Alternative Names

Tumor - bone; Bone cancer; Primary bone tumor; Secondary bone tumor; Bone tumor - benign


The cause of bone tumors is unknown. They often occur in areas of the bone that grow rapidly. Possible causes include:

  • Genetic defects passed down through families
  • Radiation
  • Injury

In most cases, no specific cause is found.

Osteochondromas are the most common noncancerous (benign) bone tumors. They occur most often in young people between the ages of 10 and 20.

Cancers that start in the bones are called primary bone tumors. Cancers that start in another part of the body (such as the breast, lungs, or colon) are called secondary or metastatic bone tumors. They behave very differently from primary bone tumors.

Cancerous primary bone tumors include:

Cancers that most often spread to the bone are cancers of the:

  • Breast
  • Kidney
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Thyroid

These forms of cancer usually affect older people.

Bone cancer is more common in persons who have a family history of cancers.


Symptoms of bone tumor may include any of the following:

  • Bone fracture, especially from slight injury (trauma)
  • Bone pain, may be worse at night
  • Occasionally a mass and swelling can be felt at the tumor site

Some benign tumors have no symptoms.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Tests that may be done include:

This following tests may also be ordered to monitor the disease:


Some benign bone tumors go away on their own and do not need treatment. Your doctor will closely monitor you. You will likely need regular imaging tests, such as x-rays, to see if the tumor shrinks or grows.

Surgery may be needed to remove the tumor in some cases.

Treatment for cancerous bone tumors that have spread from other parts of the body depends on where the cancer started. Radiation therapy may be given to prevent fractures or to relieve pain. Chemotherapy may be used to prevent fractures or the need for surgery or radiation.

Tumors that start in the bone are rare. After biopsy, a combination of chemotherapy and surgery is usually necessary. Radiation therapy may be needed before or after surgery.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well you do depends on the type of bone tumor.

Outcome is usually people with noncancerous (benign) tumors. But some benign bone tumors can turn into cancer.

People with cancerous bone tumors that have not spread may be cured. The cure rate depends on the type of cancer, location, size, and other factors. Talk to your doctor about your particular cancer.

Possible Complications

Problems that may result from the tumor or treatment include:

  • Pain
  • Reduced function, depending on the tumor
  • Side effects of chemotherapy
  • Spread of the cancer to other nearby tissues (metastasis)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have symptoms of a bone tumor.


Coleman RE, Holen I. Bone metastases. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 51.

Heck RK Jr. Benign/aggressive tumors of bone. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 26.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology (NCCN guidelines): Bone cancer. Updated 2016. Accessed March 17, 2016.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 2/12/2016
  • Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.