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Bone, Secondary

Cancers that start in another part of the body can spread to the bones through the blood or the lymphatic system. These are called secondary bone cancers. The original cancer is called the primary cancer.
This information should not be used to diagnose yourself or in place of a doctor's care.
Diagnosis & Staging

Secondary bone cancer is also called metastatic bone cancer, bone mets or bone metastases.

For more information on primary cancers that start in the bone: Bone Sarcomas

What are the signs and symptoms of secondary bone cancer?

Secondary bone cancer symptoms can include:

  • Bone pain (most common symptom).
  • Broken bones.
  • Spinal cord compression: when cancer growing in the bones of the spine presses on the spinal cord. This can cause numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, problems walking, or difficulty urinating (peeing). Spinal Cord Compression handout
  • Hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood). This may cause symptoms such as:
    • Nausea (feeling queasy)
    • Loss of appetite
    • Extreme thirst
    • Confusion
    • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
    • Frequent urination
    • Constipation       

If you have any signs or symptoms that you are worried about, please talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner.

How is secondary bone cancer diagnosed?

Tests that may help diagnose secondary bone cancer include:

  • Imaging tests to see the cancer and where it has spread:
    • X-rays.
    • Bone scan.
    • Computed Tomography (CT) scan.
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan .
  • Blood tests.
  • Urine (pee) tests.
  • Needle biopsy: a doctor uses a needle to take a small piece of tissue.  A specialist doctor (pathologist) examines the tissue to see if it is cancer.

For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see BC Cancer Library screening and diagnosis pathfinder

What are the types and stages of secondary bone cancer?

See the type and stage of your original (primary) cancer: Types of Cancer


What is the treatment for secondary bone cancer?

Cancer treatment may be different for each person. It depends on your particular cancer. Your treatment may be different from what is listed here.

  • Secondary bone cancer cannot usually be cured. Treatment can help with pain, other symptoms or even help you live longer.
  • Your overall health may impact what treatments you can have.
  • If you have secondary bone cancer, you may see a team member from our Pain and Symptom Management Program.

Systemic Therapy (chemotherapy)

  • Includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and biologic therapies.
  • Bisphosphonates (drugs that can help with bone pain and lower your risk of breaking a bone).
  • BC Cancer systemic therapy information


  • Can help with symptoms but cannot cure secondary bone cancer.
  • Sometimes needed to put in a metal support to keep a bone from breaking or to help with pain if the bone is already broken. 

Radiation therapy (uses high energy x-rays to shrink or kill cancer)

What is the follow-up after treatment?

  • Follow-up testing and appointments are based on your type of cancer.
  • After treatment, you may return to the care of your family doctor or specialist for regular follow-up. If you do not have a family doctor, please talk to your BC Cancer health care team.
More Information

What causes secondary bone cancer and who gets it?

Secondary bone cancer is caused by the spread of the primary cancer.

The cancer cells that have spread to the bone look the same and act the same as cells from the primary cancer.

The most common places for secondary bone cancer:

  • Spine
  • Pelvis
  • Ribs
  • Skull
  • Upper arm
  • Upper leg 

Can I help prevent secondary bone cancer?

There is no known way to prevent secondary bone cancer. The best way to stop cancer from spreading to the bone is to treat the primary cancer in the early stage. 

Is there screening for secondary bone cancer?

There is no screening program for secondary bone cancer. 

If you have pain that you cannot explain, talk to your doctor.

Where can I find more information?

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