What Is Secondary Bone Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2019
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Secondary bone cancer is a growth on or in the bone comprised of cells that originated in a cancer elsewhere in the body. This is an example of metastatic cancer. The prognosis depends on the type of primary cancer and the extent of the spread. Patients can receive a number of treatments to manage secondary bone cancer, and an oncologist will discuss the available options.

There are several ways a doctor may diagnose this type of cancer. Sometimes a patient with no history of cancer goes to the doctor for deep bone pain, bruising, and similar symptoms. The doctor will identify a bone tumor and in testing can discover that the cells are from somewhere else in the body, making it a secondary bone cancer. Other patients may develop secondary cancers in the course of treatment for a cancer that is not responding. Sometimes, the bone tumor appears in a patient thought to be in remission, and it may be months or years before the bone cancer shows up.


Lung, prostate, and breast cancers are the most likely to cause secondary bone cancer. The first step in diagnosis for bone tumors is medical imaging to locate the growth, and biopsy to find out what kinds of cells are present, and to determine if they originate in a primary cancer somewhere else. A patient with secondary bone cancer may require surgical treatment to remove all or part of the bone, along with chemotherapy and radiation. The doctor combines treatment for primary and secondary cancers, if necessary, to combat the cancer on multiple fronts.

Metastases are not a good sign, as they mean a cancer is aggressive and it will spread further if it is not treated. They do not necessarily indicate a grim prognosis, however, and patients should make sure they thoroughly understand the implications of a secondary bone cancer diagnosis. A doctor can provide information based on the type of cancer, the degree of spread, and the patient's overall health. Some patients may recover very well, while others may not survive.

Patients with a history of cancers known to cause secondary bone tumors should be alert to the signs, even if they are in remission, as these tumors can appear at any time. Deep bone pain that does not resolve, surface bruising, and fatigue are all warning signs. Some patients may be able to palpate the growth, and in others, the tumor can make the bone more fragile and possibly cause a fracture.



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