How is bone cancer diagnosed?

Diagnosis of bone cancer. Bone cancer can be diagnosed by many different tests.


Doctors are often able to diagnose bone cancer from an X-ray image of the affected area. X-rays can sometimes be useful for finding out the type of bone cancer it is.

Bone scan

For having a bone scan a small amount of harmless radioactive dye is injected into a vein. This collects in areas of the bone that may have cancer, and is picked up by the scan.

Bone scans are better than X-ray images at showing up a bone cancer. But other diseases, such as arthritis, can also cause a positive result. So if you have a positive bone scan, you may need further tests to make sure you have bone cancer.

MRI scan

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans use magnets and radio waves to produce images of the inside of your body. Tumours growing inside bones can be seen with MRI scans.


Often your doctor will want to take a biopsy to check if a tumour is non-cancerous. A biopsy is a small sample of tissue. This will be sent to a laboratory for testing.

The biopsy is usually done using a long needle, under local anaesthesia. The procedure is called a core needle biopsy. Sometimes doctors do an operation called a surgical biopsy. This can be done under local or general anaesthetic.

Further tests

If you are diagnosed with bone cancer, you will have more tests to check if the cancer has spread. This is called staging. You are likely to have a chest X-ray, to see if it has spread to your lungs, or a computerised tomography (CT) scan to look for signs of cancer elsewhere in your body.

Related Questions

What are bone cancer symptoms? What are the symptoms of bone cancer and how is bone cancer diagnosed?

There . There are many types of tumors that arise from bone, and many that arise from elsewhere but go to the bones and grow there. When we refer to "bone cancer" we usually mean a tumor that is malignant (can spread to other parts of the body) and that originates from cells that make the bone. Breast cancer for example can spread to bone and make a tumor there, but this tumor is composed of cells that arise from the breast tumor, not the bone, and so this is not truly a "bone cancer". Tumors of the bone are identified usually by one of two ways: the patient has pain at the site, or the patient breaks the bone through the tumor after a fall or other trauma. Bone tumors weaken the bone, and so sometimes even small traumas can break bones at the site of the tumor. Diagnosis is initially with an x-ray to show a lesion in the bone. This is usually followed with a biopsy of the bone if there is any concern that this lesion is anything but an obviously benign mass. The biopsy tissue is sent to a pathologist that looks at the tissue under a microscope and gives a diagnosis of what kind of tumor or "bone cancer" it is. Read more...
Depends. Please refer to this excellent resource for more details: http://www.Cancer.Net/cancer-types/bone-cancer. Read more...

How early can bone cancer be diagnosed? What are early symptoms?

By early visit. During routine visit to the doctor after examination may order an x ray based on complaint of slight pain or minimum swelling. Read more...
Not 1 disease. Bone cancer is not just 1 disease. Most bone cancers arise from another site in the body. Bone marrow cancers are different. Bone cancers usually present with pain. Bone marrow cancers can present in many ways, and are frequently associated with blood test abnormalities. Does this answer your question? Read more...
Vary with type of ca. Some bone cancers cause pain and swelling, others may be silent in the early stages. There are too many different types of bone cancers to provide one answer to the question. Read more...

How soon can bone cancer be diagnosed, if you have no bone pains?

Not sure. Hello alcides7. Can you elaborate? What symptoms or signs do you have that make you think you have bone cancer? Primary cancers of bone are unusual, but cancers can metastasize from other sites to bones (such as prostate cancer). There are also bone marrow cancers. Read more...