Primary Bone Cancer: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have few or no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

  • Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. 

Who is at risk for primary bone cancer?

Anyone can get primary bone cancer (cancer that starts in the bone). But there are some factors that can increase your risk for bone cancer, such as:

  • Family history of genetic syndromes or certain rare cancers. A small number of bone cancers, especially osteosarcomas, seem to be linked to hereditary diseases. For example, people with Li-Fraumeni syndrome or Rothmund-Thomson syndrome may have an increased risk of getting bone cancer. Children who have the inherited form of a type of eye cancer called retinoblastoma are also at greater risk. These cases are rare, though. Doctors have still not discovered all of the genes that are linked to bone cancer.

  • Prior radiation therapy to treat another cancer. Exposure to large doses of radiation increases the risk of primary bone cancer. This is especially true in people who were treated at a young age or had a high dose of radiation. 

  • Paget's disease of the bone. This disease mostly affects people ages 50 and older. It causes abnormal bone tissue to form. This makes brittle, thick bones, which are weak and more likely to fracture. It is not cancer, but it can lead to bone cancer (usually osteosarcoma) in a small number of cases.

  • Having certain types of bone or cartilage tumors. Having a genetic condition that causes bumps of bony tissue or benign bone or cartilage tumors can increase your risk for bone cancer. Your doctor can tell you if you have any of these conditions.

  • Having a bone marrow transplant. In a very small number of cases, having a bone marrow transplant has been linked to developing osteosarcoma. 

What are your risk factors?

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for bone cancer and ask if there is anything you can do about them. Unfortunately, many risk factors for bone cancer are not under your control. But if you are at increased risk, there might be things you can do that could help find bone cancer early, when it might be easier to treat.