Bone cancer

Primary bone cancer is rare. In the U.S. it accounts for just 0.2 percent of all cancers and it affects roughly 2,400 people each year. Bone cancers can touch anyone at any age. Among adults, chondrosarcoma and myeloma bone cancers are the most common types.

At UCHealth, a caring team of doctors and support professionals from many fields works together to develop the best plan of care for you, and they stay with you from your initial appointment through treatment and aftercare.

Bone cancer diagnosis and staging

Tests and procedures used for bone cancer staging

Once a cancer has been diagnosed, our specialists need to know where it may have spread. This is the “stage” of the cancer. The lower the number, the less it has spread. Knowing the stage allows your medical team to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.

Any combination of these tests and procedures may be used to find and classify (stage) bone cancer:


  • Blood test. Analyzes a sample of blood to determine the level of an enzyme called alkaline phosphatase which can sometimes indicate the presence of a disease or tumor.
  • Biopsy. Removes cells or tissues for viewing under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Scans and procedures

  • Angiogram. Uses an injection of dye to outline blood vessels on an X-ray.
  • Bone scan. Involves injection of a small amount of radioactive material into a blood vessel to create images of bones on a computer screen or on film.
  • CT scan (computed tomography). Uses a type of X-ray to create highly detailed and accurate cross-sectional images of the body.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Uses a magnetic field instead of X-rays to provide detailed images of body structures.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography). Uses an injection of a short-lived radioactive substance to create detailed images of body structures that help identify cancer and areas of inflammation in different parts of the body.
  • X-ray. Uses a type of high-energy radiation to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body that can show the location, size and shape of a bone tumor.

Treatments and therapy types for bone cancer


In general, surgery is the main treatment for primary bone cancer. Most of the time surgery spares limbs. That means the tumor is removed and the bone is reinforced with metal plates, screws, cement or donor bone (allograft). In more advanced cases or when treatment options are limited, an entire part of a limb is removed and replaced with a prosthesis.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) uses X-rays and other types of medical radiation aimed at specific parts of the body. The radiation kills cancer cells, prevents cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improves many of cancer’s symptoms. For certain cancers, radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy and called chemo-radiotherapy.

Provider showing man test results


Chemotherapy uses drugs that slow down, damage or kill cancer cells. It may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks each. Your team may also prescribe drugs to reduce or eliminate chemotherapy’s side effects.


All tumors need a rich supply of blood to grow. Embolization closes one or more blood vessels that may be feeding a tumor. The goal is to shrink or slow the tumor’s growth. Embolization may be combined with chemotherapy.

Individualized treatment plans to meet your needs

At our bone cancer care clinics across Colorado, you receive doctor-managed care that emphasizes wellness and healing for you as a whole person. Our complementary and integrative medicine specialists, for example, incorporate options such as massage therapy, acupuncture and exercise consultation into your treatment.

If you need surgery for your bone or soft tissue cancer, you will spend time and energy becoming mobile again. During this recovery period you’ll get help from a variety of UCHealth rehabilitation specialists.

Five-year bones and joints cancer survival rates

Chart comparing all stages Bones and joints Cancer UCHealth 60.6% survival rate to Colorado state average of 50.0%

Number of Patients Diagnosed – UCHealth 48 – State of Colorado – 197
Number of Patients Surviving – UCHealth 33 – State of Colorado – 121
*n<30, 5 Year Survival – (Date of diagnosis 1/1/2010–12/31/2014)


MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Bone Cancer (

National Cancer Institute (NCI). Bone Cancer (

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): National Library of Medicine. Primary Bone Cancer (