What is childhood bone cancer?

Childhood bone cancer is a cancerous, or malignant, tumour that starts in bone or cartilage cells. Cancerous means that it can invade, or grow into, and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread, or 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, or benign, conditions of the bone are more common. Non-cancerous conditions of the bone such as bone cysts, pathological fractures and even infections can have the same symptoms as a childhood bone cancer.

The most common type of bone cancer in children is osteosarcoma. It starts in bone cells and occurs most often during the adolescent growth spurt. It commonly starts in the end of a long bone.

The second most common type of childhood bone cancer is called Ewing sarcoma. It usually begins in the pelvis, breastbone (also called the sternum), ribs, spine or skull. These tumours can also develop in the middle part of long bones in the arms or legs. In some cases, they develop in soft tissues of the body rather than in bones.

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

  • American Cancer Society. Osteosarcoma. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2009.
  • American Cancer Society. Ewing Family of Tumors. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2009.
  • National Cancer Institute. Osteosarcoma and Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma of BoneTreatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2009.
  • Osteosarcoma. National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group. CureSearch. Bethesda, MD: 2008.
  • Ewing Sarcoma. National Childhood Cancer Foundation & Children's Oncology Group. CureSearch. Bethesda, MD: 2008.

The bones

Learn about the anatomy and physiology of the bones. Childhood osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma of the bone start in the bone cells.

Types of childhood bone cancer

There are 2 main types of bone cancer that happen in children. Learn about the types of childhood bone cancer.