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 Types of Primary Bone Cancer

types primary bone cancerThe Mayo Clinic defines bone cancer as a cancer that begins in the bones and not one that has spread from other areas of the body. Primary bone cancer is rare, and according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), primary bone cancer accounts for less than one percent of all cancers.

The three main types of primary bone cancer are osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma and Ewing's Sarcoma Family of Tumors (ESFTs). Each primary bone cancer type has its own characteristics and begins in specific areas of the bone.

Osteosarcoma as a Primary Type of Bone Cancer

When a cancer forms in the osteoid tissue of the body it is defined as osteosarcoma. This type of primary bone cancer often originates in the knee and upper arm. Osteosarcoma is the most common type of cancer to develop in the bones and it mostly occurs in children and young adults.

Subtypes of osteosarcoma are defined as high grade, intermediate grade or low grade. These subtypes are used to "grade" the cancer so they can "stage" it. Staging cancer helps medical professionals determine how likely a tumor is to spread and the best type of treatment(s) to be used.

Cancer in the Cartilidge of Bones is Known as Chondrosarcoma

Chondrosarcoma is a primary type of bone cancer that begins in the cartilaginous tissue of the body. Most commonly occurring in the pelvis, upper leg and shoulder, chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of primary bone cancer.

There are four subtypes or grades of chondrosarcomas: Benign (will not metastisize), Grade I (malignant and low grade), Grade II (malignant and intermediate grade) and Grade III (malignant and high grade).

The Ewing's Sarcoma Family of Tumors (ESFTs) as Bone Cancer

Commonly occurring along the backbone, pelvis and backs of arms and legs, Ewing's Sarcoma is a primary bone cancer that occurs in the bone and also in the soft tissue. Ewing's Sarcoma is often found in children and young adults with most cases arising between the ages of 10 and 20 years of age.

James Ewing, cancer research scientist, exposed Ewing's Sarcoma as a primary type of cancer back in the 1920s. He differentiated Ewing's Sarcoma from osteosarcoma by establishing that Ewing's Sarcoma was responsive to radiotherapy, while osteosarcoma is not.

Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma and Ewing's Sarcoma as Primary Bone Cancers

While primary bone cancer is not very common, medical professionals have summarized the three main types of primary bone cancer as osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma and Ewing's Sarcoma. Each of these primary bone cancers have their own set of characteristics and treatment options.

There are support groups and organizations for individuals and families who are affected by primary bone cancer. The Children's Cancer Web, The Mayo Clinic, and the Canadian Cancer Society are some of the organizations that offer information and support.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.


National Cancer Institute, "Bone Cancer: Questions & Answers" (accessed July 29, 2010)

American Cancer Society, " Osteosarcoma " (accessed July 29, 2010)

Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative , "Chondrosarcoma of the Bone (accessed July 29, 2010)

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