What Are the Symptoms of Bone Cancer in Hips?

Man feeling hip pain


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Hip pain is quite common and is most likely caused by injury, overuse, or chronic conditions like arthritis. Signs of bone cancer often overlap with the symptoms of these other conditions. However, bone cancer in the hip is a rare occurrence.

Primary bone cancer, cancer that begins in the bone, accounts for less than 1% of all new cancers. Bone cancer in the hip can cause pain, limping, fractures of the bone, and hypercalcemia, a condition in which there is too much calcium in your blood. 

If you are worried about pain in your hip and wonder what does bone cancer feel like, you may be relieved to know that most pain in the hip is not caused by cancer. Many symptoms of bone cancer in the hip may be caused by other conditions, which is why it is important for your doctor to conduct a careful and thorough examination of your hip.

To properly diagnosis bone cancer your doctor will take a full history, conduct a physical exam, take X-rays and possibly use other imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

A biopsy of the tumor may also be taken. However, while extremely accurate in diagnosing malignant tumors, a biopsy will not indicate how far the cancer has progressed.

Tumors that grow in bones can be malignant or benign. Benign bone tumors are much more common than malignant, or cancerous, ones. Both types of tumors can grow and affect healthy bone tissue but benign ones most often do not spread or destroy bone tissue.

Although the likelihood of hip pain being cancer is quite low, it is important to talk to your doctor if you have pain that does not go away, or pain that affects the way you walk. Many tumors in the bone do not show symptoms until they have progressed and affected the surrounding areas.

Types of Hip Bone Cancer

There are two main types of bone cancer—primary and metastatic. Primary bone cancer begins in the bones, whereas metastatic bone cancer spreads from other parts of the body. Metastatic cancer is due to metastases from other cancers, most commonly breast and prostate.

Primary Bone Cancer vs. Metastatic

In looking at hip bone cancer, our focus is on primary bone cancers. Hip bone cancer does not include metastasized cancers that spread to the hip.

There are four main types of primary bone cancer that can affect the hip.

Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma typically occurs in children, adolescents and young adults and most often affects the arm near the shoulder and the leg near the knee. However, this type of bone cancer can occur in any bone, especially in adults. Osteosarcoma tumors can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs.

Chondrosarcoma

Chondrosarcoma starts in the cartilage, connective tissue that covers the ends of bones and holds the joints together. This type of cancer mainly affects older adults over the age of forty and its prevalence increases with age.

In adults, this is the type of bone cancer most likely to affect the hip. Chondrosarcoma usually forms in the pelvis, upper leg, and shoulder and grows slowly.

Ewing Sarcoma

Ewing sarcoma is a highly malignant tumor that affects the bones and soft tissue of children and adolescents. It most commonly affects the iliac bone which is the largest bone of the hip. Children and teens will often present with pain, limping and a fever that comes and goes.

Chordoma

Chordoma is an extremely rare tumor that forms in the spine—most often at the base of the spine or base of the skull. These tumors typically occur in older adults and twice as many men as women will be affected.

When the tumor is at the base of the spine, it can cause pain down the legs and affect your ability to control your bladder or bowels.

Pain

In 20% of bone cancer patients, there are no symptoms. Often the first symptom is bone pain. Sometimes this pain can occur before tumors can be seen on X-rays or CT and MRI scans.

Usually, the pain begins spontaneously and varies in severity depending on the stage of the disease. However, the intensity of the pain does not always correlate to the type and location of the tumor.

Often the bone pain will get worse with movement and can be accompanied by a fever. Typically, this pain will increase at night. At the beginning of the disease process, most people will experience dull aches that come and go, but as time passes the pain may become more severe and constant.

If the tumor continues to grow, breakthrough pain may occur. Breakthrough pain is pain that comes on suddenly. It can be very severe, but often does not last for long periods of time. In half of all bone cancer patients, this pain lasts less than 15 minutes.

While bone pain is the main symptom of bone cancer, and pain in the hip bone can be an indication of a tumor in the hip, there are often more likely other explanations for hip pain. Hip pain is a common complaint like that of knee or back pain.

Correctly diagnosing hip pain can be difficult due to the fact that the hip joint is complex and deeply buried in the body, making it difficult for your doctor to determine the correct cause of the pain. Some of the other more common causes of hip pain are:

Swelling

Swelling is another symptom of bone cancer. The swelling, which often occurs after pain has progressed, can occur at the site of the tumor. Sometimes it is possible to be able to feel a mass, which would indicate a tumor.

In children and teens, swelling and pain are very common and much more likely to be caused by normal bumps and bruises from playing or participating in sports. In adults, swelling is much less common unless there is a direct injury.

Even though swelling can occur with bone cancer in the hip, swelling is often the symptom of something else. Swelling in the hip can be caused by an injury or a condition like bursitis, which is inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs around the joint.

General Ill Feeling

If you have bone cancer in the hip, you may experience cancer-related fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue is experienced by 80-100% of people with cancer.

Fatigue is an extreme tiredness or lack of energy that makes even daily tasks like brushing your teeth feel like running a marathon. While rest is important with any disease, if you experience fatigue, adequate rest doesn’t necessarily provide relief.

The reasons for fatigue caused by cancer aren’t fully known, but they are possibly caused by a change in hormone or protein levels that are linked to inflammation or caused by toxins produced by the cancer itself that change the way cells work. Some treatments for cancer can also cause fatigue.

Having a fever without an explanation can also indicate bone cancer in the hip. Malignant tumors are known to cause fever. If you are not sick and have no other explanation for a fever, this may be the case. In people who have a diagnosed cancer, a fever usually indicates infection which should be treated right away.

Limping

As with other signs of bone cancer, limping can indicate a tumor in the hip. However, limping can also be the result of injury to the site such as a fracture. Rheumatic disease, arthritis or other conditions that affect the tendons surrounding the hip and the hip joint can also cause limping.

While a limp does not necessarily mean you have bone cancer in the hip, a limp that does not go away should be fully evaluated by a doctor. If limping is caused by bone cancer in the hip, it is usually a symptom of later-stage bone cancer. This is often brought on by a broken bone or fracture caused by the tumor.

Self-Care for Hip Pain

Most causes of pain in the hip are musculoskeletal and can be treated at home. If you have pain in your hip, self-care methods may help you find relief. This may include non-prescription medicines such as an NSAID like Advil, herbal teas, creams, gels, compresses, yoga, meditation, walking, exercise, or a combination of any of these things.

A Word From Verywell

Most causes of pain in the hip are benign and can be treated with rest, physical therapy, medications or a combination of these things. However, if you are concerned with lower back and hip pain and cancer you may want to seek out a professional.

With all persistent pain it is important to seek guidance from your doctor, especially if the pain in your hip begins to affect your daily life.

While bone cancer in the hip is quite rare, if you experience any of the symptoms above—bone pain, fatigue, fever, swelling—that do not go away or have no other explanation, such as injury or arthritis, it is wise to seek out advice from your doctor.

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