Symptoms of childhood bone cancer

Childhood bone cancer can develop in any bone in the body.

Childhood osteosarcoma usually starts in areas where bone grows quickly such as the ends of long bones of the legs and arms. The most common sites for childhood osteosarcoma are the:

  • thigh bone (called the femur) next to the knee
  • shin bone (called the tibia) next to the knee
  • upper arm bone (called the humerus) next to the shoulder

Ewing sarcoma of the bone develops in the axial skeleton, which includes the pelvis, ribs, spine and skull. It also develops in the long bones of the legs and arms. Ewing sarcoma in the legs or arms is most likely to occur in the shaft (called the diaphysis) of the long bones. The most common sites for Ewing sarcoma of the bone in children are the:

  • hip bone (called the pelvis)
  • femur
  • ribs
  • shoulder blade (called the scapula)
  • collar bone (called the clavicle)
  • breast bone (called the sternum)
  • tibia
  • calf bone (called the fibula)
  • spine

The symptoms of childhood bone cancer may vary depending on which bone it starts in. Symptoms are usually present for several months before a diagnosis is made. Often, an injury occurs that may not heal properly, and then the child is diagnosed. Other health conditions can also cause the same symptoms as childhood bone cancer. See your child’s doctor if your child has these symptoms:


Pain is the most common symptom of childhood bone cancer. It is often felt in the bone or joint close to where the tumour develops. A child often starts having localized pain in a limb, which is like a dull ache and may mimic a sports injury. The pain gradually increases and is not relieved by rest or by mild pain medications such as Tylenol or Advil, and it prevents the child from falling asleep or wakes them up at night.

The pain can be sharp or dull. It might be worse at night. It may also get worse with activity or lifting, depending on the location of the tumour. If a tumour is in a leg bone, the pain may make the child limp.

Swelling or lump

Swelling or a lump is another common sign of childhood bone cancer. The lump or swelling is often soft and can feel warm. These signs are often easier to see if the tumour is in a leg or arm. A tumour in the chest or pelvis may not be noticed until it grows larger.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of bone cancer include:

  • limping if cancer is in a leg
  • difficulty moving the arm or the leg with cancer
  • a bone that breaks for no reason
  • fever for no reason
  • fatigue
  • weight loss

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