Bone Tumors

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What Are Bone Tumors?

Bone tumors form when your bone tissue cells divide too quickly. These abnormal growths cause a mass of tissue to form within your bone.

Primary bone tumors form in the bone itself. Secondary bone tumors are those that begin in another part of the body and spread to the bone.

Most bone tumors are benign, or not cancerous.

Malignant (cancerous) bone tumors can spread to other parts of your body. Other types of cancer can sometimes spread to your bones, too.

Bone tumor causes and risk factors

There are no known risk factors for benign bone tumors. Their cause is unknown.

Possible causes of malignant bone tumors may include:

  • Genetic defects
  • Radiation
  • Injury

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Bone Tumor Symptoms and Diagnosis

Many people who have bone tumors do not know that they have them.

Doctors may notice these types of tumors during an x-ray for another health reason.

Bone tumor symptoms

Some people do have any symptoms of a benign (noncancerous) bone tumor. The most common symptom is dull but constant pain around the site of the tumor.

Other people may simply notice a bump or knot under their skin.

Bone tumor diagnosis

If your doctor suspects that you have a bone tumor, he or she will:

  • Ask for your medical and family history.
  • Look at the area of concern, touching it to feel for any abnormalities and see if it is tender.
  • Often order an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan to help decide whether you have a bone tumor and what kind.

Your doctor may also run other tests to make sure you don't have another condition that caused the tumor.

Bone tumor biopsy

If your doctor needs to explore the tumor further, you may need to have a biopsy of the tumor.

Doctors can biopsy bone tumors two ways:

  • Needle aspiration — involves inserting a needle through the skin, into the tumor, and removing a small piece through the needle.
  • Surgical bone tumor biopsy — involves cutting open the skin to look at and take a sample of the tumor. After your bone tumor diagnosis, the surgeon who will be performing your surgery is the only one who should do this type of biopsy.

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Bone Tumor Treatment

Benign bone tumor treatment options

If you have a benign (noncancerous) bone tumor, your doctor may want to monitor it. Some tumors of this type never cause problems. Some can even go away without treatment, especially in children.

If your doctor thinks the tumor could cause a broken bone — or if it already has — you may need surgery to remove the growth and fix the bone. Surgeons in the musculoskeletal oncology program at UPMC Orthopaedic Care will fully evaluate you before they fix a broken bone.

Malignant bone tumor treatment options

Treatment of malignant (cancerous) bone tumors is more complex because your doctor will need to determine whether the cancer is only in the bone.

Malignant bone tumors can require many different treatments, such as:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

Your doctor will choose treatment based on your diagnosis, as well as the bone tumors size, location, and stage of development.

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