Understanding Bone Metastasis

Bone metastasis is when an area of bone has cancer that spread there from another part of the body.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body change and grow out of control. These cells can form lumps called tumors. Cancer starts in a certain part of the body (called the primary site). But cancer cells can break away from a tumor and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. They spread by traveling through the blood or through lymph vessels. Certain types of cancer are more likely to spread to the bone than others. These include cancers of the breast, bladder, prostate, lung, kidneys, uterus, and thyroid.

 How to say it


What causes bone metastasis?

Experts don’t know exactly why cancer spreads to the bones. It's thought that bones have proteins, hormones, or other substances that attract cancer cells. The structure and makeup of the bones may also make it easier for cancer cells to attach and grow.

Cancer tends to spread to bones near the center of the body, often the spine, hips (pelvis), ribs, upper arm and upper leg bones, and skull. Once cancer settles in the bones, the bones may get weak or hard. This can cause pain and make the bones more likely to break.  

Symptoms of bone metastasis

Symptoms often occur with bone metastasis. But they depend on the location and number of bones affected. They can also vary depending on if the bones have already become weak or hard. Possible symptoms include:

  • Bone pain

  • Broken or fractured bones

  • Numbness, weakness, and problems with the bladder or bowel if the tumor presses on the spinal cord

  • Extreme tiredness, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, hard stools, confusion, poor memory, frequent thirst, or the need to urinate often if there is too much calcium in the blood (bone metastases often cause high blood calcium levels)

Treatment for bone metastasis

Treatment for bone metastasis is focused on easing symptoms and slowing the spread of the cancer. Options often depend on the type of primary cancer, and may include:

  • Medicines. These may help ease pain and other symptoms. They may also help prevent or reduce bone damage.

  • Hormone therapy. Special medicine s are used to prevent certain hormones the body makes from helping cancer cells grow.

  • Targeted therapy. Special medicines are used to focus on, attack, and kill cancer cells. They help limit the damage to healthy cells.

  • Radiation therapy. High-energy X-rays are used to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.

  • Chemotherapy. Strong medicines are used to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.

  • Ablation. Heat or cold are used to kill cancer cells.

  • Surgery. Different types of surgery may be used to stabilize or repair bones.

Possible complications of bone metastasis

Bone metastasis is a complication of the underlying cancer in the body. If the cancer continues to spread, it can keep causing symptoms and over time, lead to death.

The goal of treatment is to control the cancer growth and spread and help you feel as well as you can.


To learn more about bone metastasis, these resources may help:

  • American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, 800-227-2345

  • National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov, 800-422-6237

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell