Primary Bone Cancer: Treatment Choices

There are various treatment choices for primary bone cancer (cancer that starts in the bones). Which may work best for you? It depends on a number of factors. These include the type, size, location, and stage of your cancer. Other factors include your age, overall health, your personal preferences, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel, look, and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, how successful they’re expected to be, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more than one choice, and ask you to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It is important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to look at your options. You may want to get another opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. In addition, you may want to involve your family and friends in this process.

Understanding the goals of treatment for primary bone cancer

For many primary bone cancers, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If cure is not possible, treatment may be used to shrink the cancer or keep it under control for as long as possible. Treatment can also improve your quality of life by helping to control the symptoms of the disease. The goals of bone cancer treatment can include one or more of the following:

  • Removing the cancer in the bone

  • Removing or destroying tumors in other parts of the body

  • Killing or stopping the growth or spread of bone cancer cells

  • Preventing or delaying the cancer's return

  • Easing symptoms from the cancer, such as pain or pressure on organs

Types of treatment for primary bone cancer

Most people with primary bone cancer will have more than one treatment. The treatments you have depend on your age, general health, and the type, grade, and stage of bone cancer. Here is an overview of each type of treatment:


This is the main treatment for most bone cancers. Surgery is done to remove the tumor and some of the normal-looking tissue around it. This is done to make sure all of the cancer is removed. The surgeon will try to not change the way you look. If the tumor is in an arm or leg (limb), the surgeon will try not to affect your limb function. Depending on where the tumor is and its size, this can be challenging. Sometimes, major reconstructive surgery is needed. Surgery to remove (amputate) an arm or leg is sometimes needed. 

Chemotherapy or other medicines

These treatments use medicines to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors before they are removed by surgery. It might also be given after surgery, to lower the chance the cancer will come back. The medicines may also be used to treat tumors that can’t be surgically removed. Or the medicines can be used on tumors that have spread to distant places in your body. In some cases, medicines called targeted therapies can help treat certain types of bone tumors.

Radiation therapy

This treatment kills cancer cells using strong X-rays or other types of radiation. In most cases, radiation therapy is not the main treatment for bone cancer. But sometimes it is used on tumors that can’t be removed. It may also be used after surgery in the area where the tumor was removed, to kill any cancer that may have been left behind. Radiation can also help ease the symptoms of bone cancer.

Supportive care

Your healthcare provider may advise therapies that help ease your symptoms, but don’t treat the cancer. These can sometimes be used along with other treatments. Or your healthcare provider may suggest supportive care if he or she believes that available treatments are more likely to do you more harm than good.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers are always looking for new ways to treat cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Talking with your healthcare provider

At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk with your healthcare providers, nurses, and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.

Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2018
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.