Bone pain: Causes, cancer symptoms, and treatment

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 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.

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:

  • fever or chills
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • sweating, particularly at night

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:

  • anti-inflammatories
  • antibiotics
  • painkillers (or analgesics)
  • hormones
  • calcium and vitamin D supplements (for osteoporosis)
  • anticonvulsants, where bone pain is nerve-related
  • corticosteroids
  • antidepressants


The outlook for bone cancer might be different depending on:

  • age
  • 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 3,450 people will be diagnosed with primary bone cancer in 2018, which is less than 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.

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