Signs & symptoms of bone cancer in the spine

Updated July 19, 2017

Most cases of bone cancer are the result of cancer spreading from another part of your body. Primary bone cancer in the spine is rare. Cancer in your spine can cause symptoms as it destroys your healthy bone cells. Cancerous tumours not only damage the bones of your spine but also damage your spinal cord. Symptoms of bone cancer in the spine include pain, fractures and numbness or weakness.


The most common sign of bone cancer in the spine is pain in your neck or back. The pain will be persistent and be accompanied by other symptoms. As the cancer in your spine grows, it can crowd your spinal cord and pinch nerves. Pain comes from the pinched nerves, the pressure of the tumour pushing your spinal bones apart or from fractures. The nerves around the spinal bones can become damaged and painful, leading the site of the tumour to become tender to the touch. Tenderness is a sign that the cancer has grown large enough to cause damage to the surrounding healthy tissue.

Weakened Bones

Bone cancer weakens your bones, and it can cause the bones in your spine to weaken and even break. Even a small fracture in the spine can cause pain, problems with movement and permanent damage. Weak spinal bones can lead to permanent issues with movement and posture. Fractured spinal bones can cut into or sever the nerves in your spinal cord, causing paralysis. As the cancer damages your spine, you may begin to notice your posture is affected. If your spinal bones are weak or fractured, it becomes harder to for your spine to remain straight. You may begin to hunch forward at the shoulders.

Neurological Symptoms

As the cancer in your spine grows, the tumour can pinch the nerves in and around your spinal cord. This can cause your arms and legs to go numb or “fall asleep." You may also experience tingling sensations in your limbs as the pressure on the nerves fluctuate. Weakness can occur and make using your hands and legs challenging. You may start to feel clumsy or have trouble walking. You may also lose control of your bladder and bowels.

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About the Author

Mary Anne Ott is a cancer patient navigator in Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Wright State University. Ott worked in the banking industry for six years as a personal banker and assistant branch manager before pursuing a career in health care.