Managing symptoms of secondary bone cancer

Managing the symptoms of secondary bone cancer is an important part of your treatment.

About managing symptoms

Managing the symptoms of secondary bone cancer is an important part of your treatment. We have more information about managing the following symptoms below.


Your doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about your pain. There are different types of pain and they may need different treatments. There are many painkillers available to treat different types and levels of pain. They are usually very effective. There are other ways of relaxing and helping to reduce your pain such as downloading a relaxation app or a long soak in a warm bath.

Tell your doctor or nurse if the pain is not controlled or if it is happening with everyday tasks such as walking or lifting things. You may need to try a few different painkillers before you find one that works well for you.

If your pain is stopping you from sleeping, your doctor may prescribe a mild sleeping tablet for you.

You can ask your doctor to refer you to a palliative care nurse who can visit you at home. They are specialists in advising on pain and symptom control and giving emotional support.

Walking and moving

Some people with secondary bone cancer may have difficulty walking or moving around. This does not affect everyone. If you have pain when you move, your doctor will want to check that the bones have not become weakened by the cancer.

If the bone does not need an operation, a physiotherapist can assess you to see if a walking stick or Zimmer frame may help. They can also see what can help you move around easier at home.

If the secondary bone cancer is affecting your arms, sometimes day to day tasks can be painful or difficult. For example eating, shaving or drying your hair. If this is the case, your doctor will assess you to check whether any treatment with radiotherapy or surgery may help.

An occupational therapist can look at what may make things easier for you. They may suggest different ways to do things, or equipment that can help you to continue doing the things you want to do.

Spinal cord compression

A common place for a secondary bone cancer is the spine. This often causes back or neck pain. If this affects you, your doctors will make sure you have painkillers to relieve any discomfort.

Less often, the cancer can cause pressure on the nerves in the spine, known as spinal cord compression.

If you have symptoms of spinal cord compression it is important to contact your doctor straight away.

We have more information about spinal cord compression including how it may be treated.

Raised blood calcium level (hypercalcaemia)

Secondary cancer cells in the bone can cause calcium to be released from the bones into the blood. This can cause symptoms such as feeling tired or sick. You may need to spend a few days in hospital having treatment to reduce your calcium levels.

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to drink lots of liquids. You are also likely to have a drip (intravenous infusion) of fluids into a vein in your arm. This will increase the amount of fluid in your blood and help your kidneys to get rid of the calcium in your urine.

Your doctor may give you bisphosphonates through a drip to reduce the level of calcium in the bloodstream. You can have this treatment more than once if the calcium levels rise again. You should feel much better within a couple of days.

Effects on the bone marrow

If you have secondary cancer in the bone, this may affect how the bone marrow works and may lower the number of cells in your blood.

If you have a low level of red blood cells (anaemia), you may be breathless and get tired more easily. Your doctor may suggest that you have a blood transfusion.

Low levels of white blood cells may make you more likely to get an infection. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics if you do.

A low platelet count will increase your risk of bruising and bleeding. Occasionally, if your platelet count is very low, you may need a platelet transfusion.

Your doctor may suggest other types of treatment that target the cancer to help reduce the effects on the bone marrow. This will depend on which type of primary cancer you have.