Treatment for bone cancer

Treatments for bone cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or targeted therapy. Get information to help you make treatment decisions.

About bone cancer treatment

Treatments for primary bone cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or targeted therapy. Most people need a combination of these treatments. The treatment you have depends on a few things, including:

  • your general health
  • where the cancer started in the body
  • the size of the tumour
  • if the cancer has spread
  • your needs and choices.

The results of your tests will help your doctors plan the best type of treatment for you. They will then talk about this with you.

Research is happening to find better treatments for primary bone cancer. You may be invited to take part in a clinical trial of a new drug or treatment.

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

Surgery for bone cancer

Surgery is an important part of treatment. It is used to remove the cancer in the bone. We have more information about having surgery for bone cancer.

Sometimes it is not possible to remove a bone cancer using surgery. This is more likely to happen if the cancer is in:

  • a bone deep within the body, such as the pelvis
  • a bone that cannot be removed without the risk of causing a serious disability, such as a bone in the spine.

If this happens, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used instead.

Chemotherapy for bone cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is given to most people with primary bone cancer.

Nearly everyone with a Ewing sarcoma will have chemotherapy. It is also given to most people with osteosarcoma and spindle cell sarcoma.

Chemotherapy may be given:

  • before surgery to shrink the cancer, making it easier to remove (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
  • after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells (called adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • if the cancer comes back.

We have more information about chemotherapy for bone cancer.

Radiotherapy for bone cancer

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiotherapy is mainly only used to treat Ewing sarcoma. It is often given together with chemotherapy and surgery.

Radiotherapy can be given either before or after surgery. If it is not possible to have surgery to remove the cancer, radiotherapy may be used as the main treatment.

Other types of primary bone cancer are not as sensitive to radiation. But if surgery is not suitable, radiotherapy may sometimes be used instead.

Targeted therapy for bone cancer

Targeted therapy drugs target something in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive.

Targeted therapy is sometimes used to treat osteosarcoma after surgery. But it is only suitable for some people.

Where treatment is given

Specialist treatment centres

If you are diagnosed with primary bone cancer (also called bone saroma), your treatment will usually be planned and given in a sarcoma treatment centre. The sarcoma unit could be based in one hospital. It could also be spread across a group of hospitals that are close to each other and that work together.

Primary bone cancer is rare and there are only a small number of sarcoma treatment centres in the UK. This means you may need to travel a long distance to get to one.

The doctors at the sarcoma treatment centre will work with a specialist cancer doctor in your local hospital to plan your treatment. It may be possible to have some of your treatment at a hospital closer to home. This is called shared care.

Teenage cancer units

Some hospitals have teenage cancer units (sometimes called TYA units), which are specially designed for teenagers and young adults.

Other hospitals may have special wards or areas for you if you are a teenager with cancer. There may be video games, DVDs and music to help you feel more at home.

In some hospitals, there is not a special ward for teenagers with cancer. This means you are treated on an adult cancer ward. The staff on the adult cancer wards can still look after you, but the wards may not have the same facilities as teenage cancer units.

Children's cancer centres

Children with bone cancer are treated in hospitals that specialise in treating children’s cancers. These are often called principal treatment centres. They are relaxed and friendly places. They try to give you and your child a positive experience.

You will probably get to know the staff well. Almost all children’s wards have facilities where parents can stay.

The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group has more information about children’s cancer centres.