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Risks and causes

Find out about the risk factors of bone cancer.

We don’t know what causes most bone cancers. But there are some factors that may increase your risk of developing it.

Having any of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer.

Risks and causes

Like most cancers, the risk of bone cancer increases with age. But for some types of bone cancer, younger people have a higher risk.

Osteosarcoma is most common in teenagers and young adults. It seems to be linked to growth of the bones during puberty. Osteosarcoma also becomes more common again in older people.

Ewing's sarcoma usually develops in young people between 10 to 20 years of age. But it can occur in younger children and older adults.

Chondrosarcomas and spindle cell sarcomas tend to occur mostly in adults over the age of 35 to 40. Chordomas occur mostly in adults over 60 years of age.

The risk of bone cancer seems to be linked to previous cancer treatment with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

This increase in risk may not just be to do with the treatment. It may also be due to the cancers sharing risk factors such as gene faults, which increase the risk of bone cancers and other cancer types. For example, bone sarcoma and a type of childhood cancer called retinoblastoma are linked with the same gene fault.

Some types of bone disease can increase the risk of bone cancer.

Chondroma or osteochondroma

If you have a type of non cancerous (benign) bone tumour called a chondroma or osteochondroma, you have an increased risk of getting a type of bone cancer called chondrosarcoma.

Ollier's disease 

People with a rare condition called Ollier's disease (also called enchondromatosis) develop many non cancerous (benign) tumours in their bones. These tumours can become cancerous, and can turn into a chondrosarcoma.

Some genetic factors are linked with bone cancer.

 Li-Fraumeni syndrome

A condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome runs in families. It is caused by a gene fault inherited from your parents. If you have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, you have an increased risk of several cancers, including bone cancer. 

 Hereditary retinoblastoma

There is a type of eye cancer also caused by faulty genes. It is called hereditary retinoblastoma. Children with this gene fault also have an increased risk of osteosarcoma.

Childhood cancer

Research shows that people who survived cancer in childhood have a higher risk of bone cancer, compared with the general population. The risk is higher for those who have had:

  • cancer at a younger age
  • radiotherapy or treatment with a type of chemotherapy called alkylating drugs
  • kidney cancer, soft tissue sarcoma or bone sarcoma

Injuries and knocks

People often think that a knock or injury to a bone can cause a cancer. But research studies do not support this.

It's more likely that an injury causes swelling, which when it's investigated, shows up a cancer that is already there. Or a bone affected by cancer may be weakened and so is more likely to become damaged in an accident. Doctors may then spot the tumour when they are investigating your accident.

Other possible causes

Stories about potential causes are often in the media and it isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence. There might be things you have heard of that we haven’t included here. This is because either there is no evidence about them or it is less clear.

For detailed information on bone cancer risks and causes

Last reviewed: 
11 Jan 2018
  • Bone sarcoma: incidence and survival rates in England
    The National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), 2012

  • Cancer and its management (6th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Blackwell, 2010

  • Bone sarcoma statistics from Cancer Research UK (Cancer Stats) 
    Accessed 2014

  • Sarcoma arising in Paget's disease of bone: declining incidence and increasing age at presentation 
    DC Mangham and others.
    Bone, 2009. Volume 4, Issue 3

  • Incidence and mortality of second sarcomas - a population-based study.  
    B Bjerkehagen and others. 
    European Journal of Cancer, 2013. Volume 49, Issue 15

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.

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