Should I see a bone cancer specialist? | Cancer Research UK
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Should I see a bone cancer specialist?

 Men and women discussing bone cancer

This page tells you about the guidelines that GPs have to help them decide whether you need to see a specialist urgently for suspected primary bone cancer. If you have had cancer somewhere else that might have spread to your bones, this is not the right page for you. We have information on secondary bone cancer that will be more suitable. On the page below there is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Should I see a bone cancer specialist?

Only about 550 primary bone cancers are diagnosed in the UK each year. It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected bone cancer and who has something more minor.

What your GP should do first

If you go to the doctor with bone pain or other signs that something is wrong, the doctor will send you to the hospital for an X-ray. X-rays are a way to diagnose a bone cancer early. If you don’t hear from the surgery about your result, contact them to ask for it.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines say that if the X-ray results show that you might have a sarcoma you should have an urgent referral to a specialist. This should be done within 2 weeks. 

If you are a child (0-15) or a young person (16-24) with pain or swelling in your bone you should be referred for an urgent X-ray within 2 days. If the results of the X-ray suggest that you might have a bone cancer you should be referred to a specialist within 2 days. 

If you are still worried

If you think your GP is not taking your symptoms seriously enough, you could print this page to discuss with them.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About bone cancer section.

 

UK cancer referral guidelines

There are several types of bone cancer, but none of them are very common. Overall, there are only about 550 primary bone cancers diagnosed each year in the UK. It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have something more minor. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist. 

Seeing a specialist

When reading these guidelines, it is important to remember that

  • Most bone tumours are diagnosed in either children, teenagers or young adults
  • Half of all diagnosed bone tumours are in or near the knee
  • A common symptom is pain that is not related to movement – the bone may be painful when you are resting or in bed at night
  • Most bone tumours can be diagnosed with an X-ray
 

What your GP should do

If you go to the doctor with bone pain or other suspicious signs that something is wrong, the first thing your doctor will do is send you to the hospital outpatient department for an X-ray. X-rays are a way to diagnose a bone cancer early. Ask your GP what they will do when the result comes back. Will the surgery contact you or will you have to contact them? If you don't hear, you should contact them anyway. It may be that nothing is wrong. But it is just as well to check and make sure you get the result.

There are particular signs on an X-ray that tell your GP that you could have a bone cancer and need to see a bone specialist (orthopaedic doctor) as soon as possible. The NICE guidelines say that a specialist should see you urgently – within 2 weeks – if your X-ray shows that you might have a bone cancer

If you are a child (0-15) or a young person (16-24) with bone swelling or pain, you should have an urgent X-ray within 2 days. If the results of the X-ray suggest you might have a bone cancer then you should be referred within 2 days to a specialist. 

 

If you've had cancer before

If you have symptoms of cancer in the bone, but have previously had another, different cancer elsewhere in your body, your GP will probably arrange for you to see your original cancer specialist. Bone cancers are very rare and it is more likely that your symptoms could be caused by your original cancer spreading to the bones, rather than a new primary bone cancer. But it is important to remember that even if you have had cancer before, your symptoms may be caused by something completely different. They are not necessarily a sign of the cancer coming back.

 

If you are still worried

If you are worried that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.

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Updated: 2 July 2015