The most significant cause of bone pain is bone cancer. This disease is most likely to occur in the long bones of the upper arms or legs, but it may affect any bone. When cancer cells originate in the bone itself, this is called primary bone cancer.
Pain caused by bone cancer may have the following symptoms:
- an initial sense of tenderness in the bone
- escalation to a constant pain or a pain that comes and goes in the affected bone
- persistent pain during the night and when at rest
When to see a doctor
It is recommended to see a doctor if bone pain is severe and persistent.
It would be wise to see a doctor if symptoms include:
- severe bone pain
- bone pain that persists and does not go away
- bone pain that gets worse over time
People should also see a doctor if they experience swelling or redness on or around a painful bone, or if they have bone fractures after minor injuries.
What are the other potential causes?
There are many other possible causes of bone pain, which include:
- secondary (or metastatic) bone cancer, which is cancer that has spread to the bones after developing in another part of the body
- a fracture following an accident or another trauma injury
- an infection
- leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in the bone marrow
- a bone infection called osteomyelitis
- osteoporosis, a condition in which a deficiency of calcium and vitamin D causes bones to be fragile
- interruption of the blood supply to the bones (as occurs in sickle cell anemia)
- a fracture caused by a twisting injury that usually occurs in toddlers, known as Toddler's fracture
- growing pains in children and teenagers
- excessive use
Bone cancer symptoms
Fever and fatigue are less common symptoms of bone pain.
In addition to bone pain, the possible symptoms of bone cancer are:
- swelling or inflammation (redness) in or around the affected area
- a lump over or near the affected bone
- bone fractures after just a small injury or fall, because cancer has made the bones fragile
Less common symptoms may also include:
Treatment options for bone cancer
Treatment aims to relieve pain, mend any fractures, and prevent or delay further bone complications.
There are different treatment approaches for bone cancer depending on its type and how far it has spread in the body.
- Surgery: Involves removing the cancerous portion of the bone. Where possible the surgeon will rebuild the bone after surgery, but sometimes they will need to amputate part of the bone.
- Chemotherapy: A cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill the malignant cells and tissues.
- Radiotherapy: A cancer treatment that uses radiation to destroy cancer cells.
- Mifamurtide: A drug used to treat osteosarcoma, a specific type of bone cancer. This treatment stimulates the body's immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.
Treatment options for other causes
Treatment, which may include antibiotics and painkillers, will be determined by a doctor's diagnosis.
Treatment for non-cancerous bone pain depends largely on the cause of the pain.
A doctor's diagnosis will determine the treatment, which may consist of:
- painkillers (or analgesics)
- calcium and vitamin D supplements (for osteoporosis)
- anticonvulsants, where bone pain is nerve-related
The outlook for bone cancer might be different depending on:
- type of bone cancer
- how far the cancer has spread in the body
- the likelihood of the cancer spreading further
Primary bone cancer is rare. According to the American Cancer Society, about 3,500 people will receive a diagnosis of primary bone cancer in 2019, accounting for 0.2 percent of all cancers.
If a person's cancer has not spread and they are otherwise in good health, treatment will be more straightforward, and their outlook will be better.
According to statistics, about 75 percent of people diagnosed with primary bone cancer live for 1 year or more, while over 50 percent live for 5 years or longer.