Is My Hip Pain Cancer?

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Pain in your hip may be scary, but cancer is only one reason you may feel this pain. Common reasons for sharp, burning, or aching pain can be conditions like arthritis and bursitis, injuries, or severe causes like joint infections or fractures. Knowing the signs of hip cancer can help you determine when to see your doctor and what to expect.

man experiencing hip pain

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Types of Hip Cancer

Hip cancer can be caused by primary cancer that originates in the hip or cancer that started elsewhere in the body and spread to the hip. There are different types of hip cancer.

Bone Cancer

Cancer that starts in the bone is called primary bone cancer. There are several types of primary bone cancer, including:

  • Chondrosarcoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Chordoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma

Metastatic Cancer 

Metastatic cancers of the hip are cancer that started elsewhere in the body and has spread to the hip and is more common than primary bone cancer.

Cancers in the hip can occur in the:

  • Bone marrow
  • Soft tissue
  • Cartilage

Certain types of cancer spread to bones more than others. These include:

  • Thyroid
  • Breast
  • Prostate
  • Lung cancers

Leukemia

Leukemia is one of the most common forms of hip cancer. It forms in the bone marrow, where cancerous cells overtake healthy cells. How this occurs and how quickly depends on the type of leukemia.

Symptoms of Hip Cancer

Pain 

Pain is the most common symptom of hip cancer. It can come and go and be worse at night, gradually worsening and becoming continuous.

At first, it may subside with movement, but later, activity can make the pain worse, especially as the bone weakens. As the bone weakens, fractures can occur, though this is not common. If a fracture is through a tumor, the pain is often sharp and much worse than previously.

Bone Loss May Lead to Fractures

Bone cancer can weaken the bone, leading to fracture. Bone fractures across a tumor are very painful. Often, if severe pain occurs in a bone that has been sore for some time, it is due to a fracture.

Other Symptoms

  • Swelling, with or without a palpable lump
  • Fever and chills
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Feeling generally ill, nauseous or tired
  • Night sweats
  • Signs of hypercalcemia such as constipation, thirst, weakness, joint pain

Some symptoms of hip cancer require immediate medical attention. If your pain is severe, seek help right away. Other emergency signs include:

  • Changes in mental status or consciousness such as behavior change, delusions, confusion, passing out, or becoming unresponsive
  • Seizure
  • Bleeding
  • Difficulties with breathing
  • Heart palpitations or heartbeat abnormalities
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • A blueish tinge of the lips or fingernails
  • Fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Any difficulty with movement in your hip or leg

Diagnosing Hip Cancer

To diagnose hip cancer, your doctor will perform an exam and, if necessary, will order further tests.

Office Exam

If hip cancer is suspected, the doctor will perform a physical check for lumps, pain, and swelling, as well as any other symptoms. A history of any illnesses and conditions, health practices, and past medical care or treatments may be taken.

Tests

Standard tests for hip cancer include imaging tests like:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRIs
  • Bone scans
  • PET scans
  • PET-CT scans

Imaging tests can help doctors get a view of where unhealthy tissue may be. Blood tests might be performed. A sample of tissue will likely be extracted with a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. The biopsy should be performed by a cancer specialist, especially if the tumor will need to be removed surgically. Biopsies can be done with a needle or surgery.

Treatment 

The type of treatment for hip cancer depends on the type of cancer it is and what stage it is in. Generally, this can include medication and surgery.

Treatment Depends on the Type of Cancer

Some cancer requires surgery, while others respond to targeted therapy. Often, a combination of treatments will be used, especially if the surgery does not remove all cancerous cells.

Medication 

Medications used to treat hip cancer include targeted therapy drugs, chemotherapy drugs, as well as radiopharmaceuticals.

Chemotherapy is often used for bone hip cancers that are diagnosed as Ewing’s sarcoma or osteosarcoma. Other types of bone cancer are not responsive to chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy is a treatment for primary cancer or those that have spread (metastasized) to other areas.

Targeted therapy drugs are medications that target specific types of cancer and how the cells grow and reproduce. Depending on the type of cancer, these drugs may interfere with the proteins or enzymes and signals the cells send to grow and spread. They are notably helpful for cancers that don’t respond to chemotherapy, such as chordomas and other bone cancers.

Surgery

Hip cancer is often treated with surgery, which is the primary treatment for most bone cancers. With surgery, an excision is made to remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue. This wide excision makes sure any cancer cells that may have spread to surrounding tissue are removed so they do not spread further into healthy tissue. If not all cancerous cells are removed with surgery, radiation therapy may be used.

Most of the time, the limb can be spared with the same survival rates as amputation surgery. Limb sparing surgery can result in further complications with difficult recovery but is often preferred over amputation. Your doctor can help you decide which procedure is best for you.

Radiation

External beam radiation therapy—used to treat hip cancer in the bone—uses high-energy particles to kill cancer cells. It is not often used to treat bone cancer unless surgery cannot remove all of cancer. If surgery fails to remove all cancerous cells in surrounding tissue, external radiation may target it.

A Word From Verywell

Hip pain can be very concerning and understandably cause anxiety. While not all hip pain is caused by cancer, it is worth discussing your worries with your doctor, who can help you determine whether further testing should be done. If you are diagnosed with hip cancer, know that there are several treatment options, and new therapies are being discovered all the time.

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  4. American Cancer Society. Targeted therapy for bone cancer. Updated January 3, 2019.