Surgery for Bone Cancer

Surgery for Bone Cancer


Surgery is often the primary treatment for bone cancer. When operating to remove bone tumors, our surgeons remove some of the surrounding bone and muscle to be sure they are eliminating as much cancerous tissue as possible. If the cancer is in an arm or a leg, we try to preserve the limb and maintain its functionality. In most bone cancer surgeries, we are able to do so.

Sometimes we can replace bone that has been removed with either bone from another part of the body or an implant. We have developed replacements that are more durable and functional than those that were previously available.

We may use chemotherapy or radiation, or both, as part of your treatment, in combination with surgery. This is done either to shrink the tumor before surgery or to manage and control the tumor after surgery.

Preserving Limbs

While any diagnosis of cancer can be frightening, a bone cancer diagnosis often carries with it the additional worry about losing an arm or a leg. We try to preserve the limbs whenever we can reasonably do so. Our surgeons use a number of techniques for preserving limb function after bone cancer surgery. In some cases, the limb can be saved even when the bone needs to be removed. Our doctors can even recreate functioning joints, such as knees, so that your limbs will still flex naturally.

MSK surgeons were the first to perform successful limb-salvage surgery for patients with high-grade bone sarcomas.

When amputation is necessary, our surgeons are skilled in performing the operation in a way that will allow you to have the best possible quality of life. There will always be a period of adjustment — both emotionally and physically — to the loss of a limb. But new surgical techniques and improved prostheses have made this adjustment easier. Usually you will be able to resume an active — even athletic — life after losing a limb or part of a limb to bone cancer.


Our doctors have made many improvements in artificial limbs. We’ve developed replacements that are more durable and functional than standard replacements; participated in clinical trials to evaluate limb-replacement devices that may last longer than conventional prostheses; and led studies to create longer-lasting prostheses, such as the Compress implant, which secures a knee replacement to the thigh bone. We also use specially designed expandable prostheses in children that “grow” as a child grows.

At MSK, we also have pioneered methods of bone transport and limb lengthening that recreate bone naturally. 


Cryosurgery (the freezing and killing of cancer cells) is sometimes used in addition to surgery for some bone cancer patients. After removing the bone tumor, we use liquid nitrogen to freeze the tumor cavity to subzero temperatures. This kills microscopic tumor cells and decreases the chance that the tumor will recur (come back). The frozen bone is stabilized by filling the tumor cavity with bone graft, cement, or rods and screws to prevent fractures.

Our surgeons were the first to use cryosurgery on bone tumors. They have perfected its use to reduce tumor recurrence, preserve the function of the limb and its joints, and decrease the need for amputation.

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