Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Bone Cancer

Specialists are unsure of the exact cause of most bone cancers. But, there are known symptoms and risk factors.

Risk factors 

Although most bone cancer occurs in people with no known risk factors, certain conditions or factors can increase your chances of developing bone cancer, including: 

  • Genetics: For example, children with hereditary retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer, have an increased risk of developing osteosarcoma
  • Previous radiation therapy: Radiation treatment for other conditions or cancers increases risk of bone cancer at the site of the radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy: Some chemotherapy medicines used to treat cancer may increase the risk of developing a secondary cancer, usually osteosarcoma
  • Benign tumors or other bone conditions: Paget’s disease of the bone may lead to osteosarcoma. Other noncancerous bone diseases, such as fibrous dysplasia, may increase the risk of osteosarcoma

Currently there is no known way to prevent bone cancer. Early detection offers the best hope for successful treatment. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your primary care physician may help you make more informed lifestyle and healthcare choices.


We perform tests to determine if there is cancer, the type of cancer and its stage of advancement. Before any diagnostic testing, your physician may consider these factors:

  • Your age and medical condition
  • Type of cancer suspected
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Previous test results

In addition to a thorough physical examination, you may receive a combination of tests to diagnose bone cancer, including:

  • Blood tests: Laboratory tests look for levels of specific proteins or enzymes that may indicate bone cancer such as Ewing sarcoma or osteosarcoma
  • X-ray: X-ray images can show bone tumors
  • Bone scan: This test determines if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone or if cancer has spread to other bones. A small amount of radioactive material injected into the bloodstream collects in the bones. Any cancerous areas in the bones appear as solid spots in the images
  • Computed tomography (CT scan): A CT scan is an imaging procedure that uses X-rays to create multiple cross-sectional images of bone and tissue to reveal tumors, their size and whether they have spread to other areas
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Using a magnetic field and radio waves instead of X-rays, MRI imaging shows tumors in bone, muscle and soft tissue in great detail
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: PET scan images show important body functions, such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar (glucose) metabolism, to help doctors evaluate how well organs and tissues are working
  • Integrated PET-CT scan: Combining PET images of body functions such as blood flow and oxygen use with CT’s extremely detailed multiple images allows physicians to provide more accurate diagnoses
  • Biopsy: A sample of tumor tissue is removed and examined under a microscope

Related Resources

Bone Scan Brochure: Learn of the preparations and care needed before and after this procedure. English | Spanish

Triple Phase Bone Scan Brochure: Learn of the preparations and care needed before and after this procedure. English | Spanish