Life after bone surgery

Knowing what to expect from life after surgery for bone cancer can help you to cope better.

This page is about cancer that starts in your bone (primary bone cancer).

If your cancer has spread into bone from another part of the body, it is called secondary or metastatic bone cancer.

Physiotherapy

Having bone surgery can be a lot to cope with. After bone surgery, you will have regular physiotherapy to help get you going again. 

Treatment for bone cancer may lead to permanent disability, but it is important to know that many people can adapt to get back to their normal activities. Physical functioning can improve for a long time after treatment - sometimes several years.

Further surgery

You might need further operations in the future if you have limb sparing surgery. If you are young and had not finished growing when you had your operation, you may need to have the prosthesis replaced as you get bigger. 

Some prostheses are made to lengthen as the skeleton grows. If you have one of these, you still need to go into hospital from time to time to have it extended. You either have a small operation. Or in some cases it can be done without surgery, using a motor inside the implant which is lengthened using electro magnets.

Possible problems

When you have a false joint or bone you might develop some sort of complication that needs surgery to put it right. This might be an infection or a problem with the prosthesis.

Infection

You might have:

  • pain 
  • swelling 
  • fever
  • an open wound over the operation site
Infection in bone needs urgent treatment, so if you are worried or have any signs of infection call your doctor.

Problems with the prosthesis

Your false joint might feel different or seem unstable to you if it is coming loose. It might be making a noise that it hasn't made before if there is some sort of mechanical failure. Get it checked out by your surgeon.

Wear and tear

False bones and joints very rarely break.

After several years, there may be signs of wear and tear in your false bone or joint. The plastic surfaces of the joint or bone can become worn and need replacing. If you had a metal rod inserted into your bone this can sometimes become loose and so may need replacing or strengthening.

If you had a false knee fitted due to bone cancer, you are likely to need further surgery at some point in the future. Around 3 people out of every 100 each year (3%) need a replacement knee joint.

Pain

Pain is often nerve pain (also called neuropathic pain). It's caused by pressure on nerves. Speak to your healthcare team if you suffer from pain. There are many ways to control pain.

Swelling of the limb

Swelling of a limb can be uncomfortable and cause pain if the swelling presses on a nerve. It can also affect your mobility and how you feel about yourself.

Ask your healthcare team to refer you to a specialist that deals with swelling if you are struggling with a swollen limb.

Problems with scarring

Limb sparing surgery can be a very big operation involving cutting into a lot of tissue, bone and muscle. It may leave you with a long scar. You might have some tightness and discomfort if you have radiotherapy to the area, as this can make healthy tissues less stretchy over time.

Having major surgery and scarring can cause different problems.

Difficulty moving your limb

You will have trouble moving the affected limb to start with. But your physiotherapists will give you lots of exercises that will gradually make moving easier for you.

Changes in how you look

How you look is an important part of your self esteem. It can be very hard to accept sudden changes in your looks that you are not happy with.

It is not unusual for people who have had limb sparing surgery to feel confused and upset for some time after their operation. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. You may feel that you are no longer as physically attractive. Going back to work, meeting new people and going for job interviews can all be more of a struggle if you are coping with changes in your appearance. 

The important thing to remember is that the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. Try and talk to them, they can help to support you when they know how you feel.

Changes to your appearence might affect how you feel about sex.

If you have had an amputation

It can seem to take a long time before you can move around normally again and this may make you feel very low. It can take many months before you can put a lot of weight comfortably on your false leg. And it may take a while before your limb is completely comfortable. Most people get there within a year of their surgery.

There is help and support available if you need it. Your doctor could arrange counselling for you.

Sarcoma UK provides help and support for people with bone or soft tissue sarcomas. You can call or email them in confidence.

You could also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
06 Apr 2021
Next review due: 
05 Apr 2024
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    C Gerrand and others
    Clinical Sarcoma Research, 2016. Volume 6

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)

    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg

    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2019