What is childhood bone cancer?

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Bone cancer starts in the cells of the bone or cartilage. A cancerous (malignant) tumour can grow into nearby tissue and destroy it. The tumour can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. When cancer starts in bone or cartilage cells, it is called primary bone cancer. Childhood bone cancer is rare. Non-cancerous (benign) conditions of the bone are more common.

Childhood bone cancer is rare. Non-cancerous, or benign, conditions of the bone are more common.

Types of childhood bone cancer

There are 2 main types of bone cancer that develop in children.

Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma most commonly occurs in areas where bone grows quickly, such as the metaphysis (ends) of long bones of the legs and arms. The most common sites for childhood osteosarcoma include the:

  • femur next to the knee

  • tibia next to the knee

  • humerus next to the shoulder

Osteosarcoma occurs most often during the adolescent growth spurt.

Ewing sarcoma of the bone

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

  • pelvis (hip bone)
  • femur
  • ribs
  • scapula (shoulder blade)
  • clavicle (collarbone)
  • sternum (breastbone)
  • tibia
  • fibula

Bone metastasis

Other types of cancer can spread to the bones, but this is not the same disease as primary bone cancer. Cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the bone is called bone metastasis. It is not treated in the same way as primary bone cancer. Find out more about bone metastasis.

Expert review and references

  • Abha Gupta, MD, MSc, FRCPC
  • Raveena Ramphal, MBChB, FRACP

The bones

Childhood bone cancer starts in bone cells or cartilage cells. Groups of bones and cartilage make up the skeleton.