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Types of Bone Cancer

written by: Stephanie M. Lucas • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 3/28/2011

Bone cancer accounts for 1% of all cancers. Approximately 2,300 new cases of bone cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. Learn about the various types of bone cancer and their differences.

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    Bone Cancer Types

    Leg X-Ray Bone cancer is a cancerous tumor in the bone that destroys normal bone tissue. Bone cancer can begin in any bone of the body, but most commonly starts in long bones of the arms or legs. The term "bone cancer" includes types of cancer that originate in the bone, not other cancers that spread to the bone. Bone cancers do not include blood cell cancers that begin in the bone marrow, such as leukemia.

    Bone cancer symptoms are bone pain, swelling and tenderness near the affected area, weakened bones, fractures, fatigue and unexplained weight loss. Types of bone cancer include: osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Ewing's sarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma.

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    Osteosarcoma

    Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer, usually affecting children and young adults. Osteosarcoma occurs during rapid growth of the bone, making it rare for adults to get this type of bone cancer. Osteosarcoma most commonly occurs in the shin, thigh and upper arm. Osteosarcoma can be classified into one of three subtypes: high-grade, intermediate-grade and low-grade. High-grade osteosarcoma is the fastest growing. Under a microscope, high-grade osteosarcoma does not look like normal bone and many of the cells are in the process of dividing. Intermediate-grade osteosarcoma is between high-grade and low-grade in terms of severity. It is also the least common type of osteosarcoma. Intermediate-grade osteosarcoma is treated the same as low-grade. Low-grade osteosarcomas are the slowest growing and least likely to spread to other parts of the body. The tumors look almost like normal bone cells containing only few dividing cells.

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    Chondrosarcoma

    Chondrosarcoma accounts for approximately 26% of bone cancer. It is the second most common of the various types of bone cancer. Unlike osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma most commonly affects older adults. Chondrosarcoma affects the cartilage cells in the bone and range in severity from slow-growing (grade 1) to fast-growing (grade 3). Chondrosarcomas occur most often on the pelvic and shoulder bones, but may occur on any bone throughout the body.

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    Ewing's Sarcoma

    Ewing's sarcoma is a type of bone cancer that only occurs during childhood and young adulthood. It usually presents during puberty, often affecting the long bones of the arms and legs, the pelvis or the chest. Ewing's sarcoma may spread to other areas of the body, especially to the bone marrow and lungs. Ewing's sarcoma may also develop in the soft tissues near a bone. Symptoms of Ewing's sarcoma tend to occur gradually and may be misdiagnosed as growing pains or attributed to a sports injury.

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    Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma

    Malignant fibrous histiocytomas can originate in the bone, but most often form in the soft tissues. This type of bone cancer is usually experienced as a painless mass, most commonly found in the extremities. Malignant fibrous hystiocytomas may occur at any age, but are rare in children and most common in adults aged 50-70.

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    Sources Cited

    "Bone Cancer." National Cancer Institute

    "Bone Cancer." Mayo Clinic

    "What is Osteosarcoma?" American Cancer Society

    "Chondrosarcoma." Mayo Clinic

    "Ewing's Sarcoma." National Institutes of Health

    "Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma." Children's Hospital Boston

    Photo Credit: © sxc.hu/TsuDhoNimh