Bone cancer

Your body is made up of more than 200 bones. These bones help you move and protect your organs (like your heart and lungs). Primary bone cancer is a cancer that starts in one of these bones. 

What does it feel like?

You might have some swelling or feel a bit of pain where the tumour is. A tumour is where part of your body gets a lump that shouldn't be there. If this happens near a joint, like your knee or elbow, it might be hard to move that part of your body.

How is it diagnosed?

Being ‘diagnosed’ means that doctors know what type of illness you have. This will usually be done by specialists, doctors who concentrate on bones, at a hospital or bone treatment centre. They might need to take a scan. This is when you lie very still inside a special machine that takes pictures of the inside of your body. 

They will also need to take a sample of the bone (a biopsy) to look at under a microscope but they will numb the area or put you to sleep so it does not hurt.

Will I need medicine and treatment?

There are different sorts of treatment to help you get better and your doctor will tell you what you need.

  • Surgery can be done to take out the tumour but you will be given an anaesthetic to make you fall asleep so don't feel anything.
  • Chemotherapy is a special medicine that kills the cancer cells. You might have it before your surgery to make the tumour smaller and easier to take out, and afterwards to destroy any cancer still in your body.
  • Radiotherapy uses invisible laser beams to destroy the cancer and can be used instead of surgery. Some children also go to another country to have a special type of radiotherapy called proton beam therapy. Your doctor will tell you whether you need to do this.

What will treatment feel like?

Chemotherapy might make you feel more tired and poorly than usual. It can make you feel a bit sick, change how much you need the toilet and you might lose your hair while you’re on treatment.

Radiotherapy can also make you feel unwell and can make your skin a bit red and sore where you are being treated.

Steroid drugs can change the way you feel emotionally and you may get some mood swings, as well as gaining some weight.

This all might sound a bit scary, but it is very normal and part of helping you get better.

If you are worried, you can talk to your nurse or doctor, or a family member.

What will happen afterwards?

When your treatment has finished, you will still need to see a doctor regularly to make sure your cancer is staying away. When the doctor is sure that your cancer has gone away, they will want to make sure that your body continues to work properly after the treatment.

If you have a prosthesis (a metal bone or joint), it is also important to keep an eye out for any signs of infection. If you feel any pain or temperature gets too hot, it’s important to see a specialist as soon as possible.

Will I get ill again?

If you have had surgery, you might find it difficult to do everything you did before and it is normal to take some time to adjust to the changes. Physiotherapy is where someone will help you to get your strength back and this can be very helpful.

There is a chance you may need more surgery in the future to make sure your limbs are growing as they should be.

You should always make sure you talk about your worries with someone close or in your medical team. Doctors will make sure you have all the help you need and are always there to talk about what is happening and answer any questions.

Updated April 2018, next review due 2021.