Bone tumors : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Alternate Names : Tumor – bone

Definition

A bone tumor is an abnormal growth of cells within the bone that may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

The cause of bone tumors is unknown. They often arise in areas of rapid growth. Possible causes include:

  • Inherited genetic mutations
  • Radiation
  • Trauma

But in most cases no specific cause is found.

Osteochondromas are the most common noncancerous (benign) bone tumors, and occur most often in people between the ages of 10 and 20. Some benign bone tumors go away on their own and do not require treatment. These benign tumors are monitored periodically by x-ray.

Cancers that start in the bones are referred to as primary bone tumors. Cancers that start in another part of the body (such as the breast, lungs, or colon) are not considered bone tumors. Multiple myeloma often affects or involves the bone, but is not considered a bone tumor.

Cancerous (malignant) bone tumors include:

  • Chondrosarcoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Osteosarcomas

The most common cancers that spread to the bone are cancer of the:

  • Breast
  • Kidney
  • Lung
  • Prostate
  • Thyroid

These forms of cancer usually affect older people.

Bone cancer was once very common among people who painted radium on watch faces (to produce glow-in-the-dark dials). The painters would “tip” the brush with their tongue (in order to produce fine work) and absorb minute amounts of radium, which deposited in the bone and caused cancer. The practice of using radium paint was abandoned in the middle of the 20th century.

The incidence of bone cancer is higher in families with familial cancer syndromes. The incidence of bone cancer in children is approximately 5 cases per million children each year.

Pictures & Images

X-ray

X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation that can penetrate the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray depending on density. X-rays can provide information about obstructions, tumors, and other diseases, especially when coupled with the use of barium and air contrast within the bowel.

Skeleton

Skeleton

The skeleton consists of groups of bones which protect and move the body.

Osteogenic sarcoma – x-ray

Osteogenic sarcoma - x-ray

This x-ray shows a malignant bone tumor (osteogenic sarcoma) of the knee. This type of tumor is usually seen in adolescents (around 15 years old). This tumor extends from the bone into the surrounding tissue.

Ewings sarcoma – x-ray

Ewings sarcoma - x-ray

This x-ray shows a malignant bone tumor (Ewing’s sarcoma) of the upper arm bone (humerus). This type of tumor usually occurs during childhood and adolescence.


    Review Date : 11/5/2009
    Reviewed By : David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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