Bone cancer symptoms

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on August 11, 2022.

The symptoms of bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma, differ depending on the location, type and stage of bone cancer, but in most cases, bone pain is usually the first sign.

Signs of bone cancer

While not all bone cancers cause symptoms, some cancerous tumors may grow and press on healthy tissue, which may lead to the symptoms listed below.

Bone pain

Bone pain is the most common sign of bone cancer, and may become more noticeable as the tumor grows. Early on, the pain may only occur at night, or when the patient is active. As the cancer develops, though, the pain may become more persistent. Other conditions, like osteoporosis or arthritis, may also cause bone or joint pain.

What does bone pain feel like?

Bone pain can cause a dull or deep ache in a bone or bone region (e.g., back, pelvis, legs, ribs, arms). Bone pain feels different than muscle or joint pain. It's typically felt more deeply in the body or limbs, and it's often sharper, more intense and more regionally focused than muscle pain, which tends to be felt more broadly throughout a specific area of the body. Bone pain also tends to last longer and is rarer than joint or muscle pain.

Swelling or a lump

The area where the bone pain is localized may begin to show signs of swelling, or a lump or mass may be present. This may especially be true for cancers that form in the bones of the neck, which may cause swelling that forms into a lump or mass in the back of the throat, leading to difficulty swallowing, eating or breathing.

Bone fractures

Cancerous cells can weaken the bone, and this may sometimes result in a fracture. The break may occur in an area of the bone that had previously been sore or painful for a period of time.

Decreased mobility

In some cases, if the location of the tumor is near a joint, it may make normal movements difficult or painful. A tumor located around the knee, for example, may interfere with the ability to bend, flex or even put pressure on that joint, making it difficult to walk or move around with ease.

Other symptoms of bone cancer

Unexpected weight loss and fatigue that accompany bone pain may be a sign of bone cancer. Other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, may develop if the cancer has spread to other organs, such as the lungs.

Learn more about orthopedic oncology

Next topic: What are the risk factors for bone cancer?

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Show references
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