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What Is a Bone Island?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A bone island is a benign growth of bone or cartilage inside a bone, usually within the marrow. It shows up on a medical imaging study, such as an X-ray, as a point of increased density and is believed to be caused by overproduction of bone or cartilage cells. Terms such as enostosis and enchondroma may be used to refer to a bone island. Often, these growths are diagnosed while a patient is being evaluated for another condition.

Bone islands can be congenital or developmental. In many people, they cause no ill effects and the patient may be unaware of the bone island or bone islands in the body. Sometimes, however, they can cause pain, especially after exercise. People who experience bone pain usually seek medical treatment for it and the bone island will be diagnosed in the process of evaluating the patient. An orthopedic doctor is usually involved in the diagnosis and treatment of a patient with a bone condition and an oncologist may be involved as well.

While bone islands are benign, other conditions that are not benign can look like a bone island at first glance. When such growths are identified, a doctor will usually recommend additional diagnostic testing to find out exactly what is going on. The doctor does not want to miss something like a malignant tumor. Patients will also be asked about any symptoms they may have experienced and how long they have noticed those symptoms, as this information can be key to determining whether an irregularity in a medical imaging study is a bone island or something else.

Common locations for bone islands include the hip, the fingers, and the thigh. In addition to growing in people, these growths can also be found in animals, especially dogs and horses. A review of the images can often reveal whether or not the growth is bone or cartilage, in addition to showing the precise location and extent of the growth. Usually, images are kept on file so they can be compared with new images on periodic checkups to determine whether or not the growth is changing.

Sometimes, these growths can become cancerous. People with certain genetic conditions are at risk of cancers of the bone, and a bone island can develop into a malignant tumor in these patients. Someone who is at risk may be monitored for any signs that the growth is behaving abnormally. Options for treatment can include surgery to remove the growth if it is causing pain or it becomes malignant.

Where Do Bone Islands Form?

Bone islands can appear on any bone and any spot in the skeleton. They can grow in certain locations more frequently than others. For instance, the pelvis, ribs, and femur are the most common locations for bone islands to form.

Bone Island Symptoms

Bone islands are typically discovered when a patient is at the office or hospital to be treated for something else. It is possible to experience symptoms of a bone island (or confuse them for other bone-related problems). Below are symptoms of bone islands:

  • Dull pain and swelling in the affected area
  • Stiffness in that part of the body 
  • Pain that is made worse by exercising

Since the symptoms of a bone island are so non-specific, patients often ignore them their entire lives. However, they can get worse over time.

Are Bone Islands Common?

Bone islands can appear on any part of the skeleton and are common in people. Luckily, they are usually harmless. Plus, it is unlikely that one or more bone islands a patient has will spread to other parts of their body but this isn’t always the case.

Do Bone Islands Require Treatment?

Although it’s rare, some bone islands do require treatment. While bone islands can be largely ignored, they can be malignant or cancerous. This is why it is crucial to visit a doctor whenever the symptoms manifest.

If they metastasize, the bone islands may spread to other body parts. This might go on for years without the patient noticing because the symptoms are generally rare and minimal. It’s rare for bone islands to cause pain; when they do, the pain is usually minimal.

If a patient is diagnosed with a malignant bone island, the doctor will likely run more scans and suggest treatment to remove the growth. This may also be true if the bone island is especially painful.

Do Bone Islands Go Away?

No, bone islands do not go away on their own. For most people, this isn’t going to be a concern. Most bone islands pose no threat to the patient but if they’re malignant, the patient will need treatment. This often means surgery and will likely be scheduled as soon as bone island growth is verified as malignant. Studies show that bone islands grow at different rates but expand over time.

How Often Are Bone Islands Cancerous?

It’s very rare for bone islands to be cancerous and even rarer for one that’s initially benign to become cancerous. One might go their whole life without knowing they have one or more bone islands.

How Do You Know if a Mass Is Cancerous?

The only way to know if a mass of any kind, whether on the skin or the bone, is cancerous is to see a trained medical professional and have one more scan completed on that part of the body. The doctor will likely perform a biopsy to test the mass to see if it is malignant.

What Can I Do To Prevent Bone Islands?

It’s impossible to prevent bone islands from forming since doctors aren’t sure what causes them. However, since it’s far more likely that they’re going to be harmless, it’s not something that doctors usually worry about or advise their patients to prevent.

For those with a history of cancer, seeing a doctor regularly will ensure that no malignant bone islands are developing and, if one is present, that it is caught right away at the earliest opportunity.

Bone Island vs. Bone Spur

These two distinct types of bone growth have many similarities and some important differences. 

Bone Island

Bone Spur

Form within the bone

Form on the bone edges

No known cause

Are products of repair responses by the body

Often have no associated pain

Often accompanied by painful symptoms

Usually cause no issues

Can cause issues and injuries due to pressure from the projecting bone tissue

Doctors are unsure what exactly causes bone islands whereas bone spurs result from osteoarthritis damage and commonly form in the hands, neck, knees, hips, heels, and the spine. Many symptoms common to bone islands are also present for someone suffering from bone spurs, including pain, swelling, and stiffness. In the spine, the pinching and compression of nerves due to the projecting bone spurs can cause chronic pain.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1005279 — On Jul 26, 2021

What if a doctor diagnosed the bone island at right hip bone ileum to be cancerous?

By anon995976 — On Jun 19, 2016

I have 3cm bone island on my tailbone and it's very painful. Is there any treatment for this ?

By anon297279 — On Oct 15, 2012

How serious is a 1cm sclerotic region of bone in the right iliac wing consistent with a bone island? I was having constipation problems and they saw it in an X-ray. I'm a 59 year old male.

By anon264134 — On Apr 26, 2012

I was diagnosed with benign bone island recently by my oncologist (had breast cancer four years ago)

I was advised to see him again in six months' time for a check up. Advice, please.

By anon255348 — On Mar 16, 2012

My husband has bone island in his pelvis. He was complaining of pelvic pain when the doctor ordered a scan to make sure it was not his appendix. He was told that he had nothing to worry about but he never consulted an oncologist. He is fine so far.

By anon195727 — On Jul 12, 2011

I have a bone island on my right shoulder. I will have it surgically removed sometime next month. How long does it takes to heal up? I will be joining the marines pretty soon.

My bone island pain aches after activities, and I cannot sit still for more than 15 minutes. Driving is a pain and a half. It's also difficult to sleep, and I cannot lift as heavy as I used to because benching makes it ache.

By anon161186 — On Mar 18, 2011

My husband has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. We just got back the final report from his bone scan and ct scan. The ct scan said no (definite) metastasis. However, they said he has a 2.5-cm segment ll and 1.8 cm caudate lobe liver hypodense lesions (likely cysts or biliary hamartoma.) Also, a 1.3-cm left kidney hypodense lesion (likely cyst.) There is dependent atelectasis in the lung basis. Also, a small sclerotic focus on left femoral head (likely bone island). This just seems like too much going on and we are afraid of metastasis.

Could someone please explain this? He has upper stomach pains, pains in his lower back and hips. He has really not been feeling well for a while now. Please, any advice as to what to do next? By the way, he does not see the oncologist/urologist until April. We have had no discussions with him about these findings as of yet.

By anon144996 — On Jan 21, 2011

I was just diagnosed with a bone island on my knee.It is painful after activity The doctor wants to x-ray again in four months. Not to overreact, but if it is something more serious, shouldn't it be looked at sooner?

By anon135654 — On Dec 19, 2010

when i get my medical results they found that i have a bone island in my right rib? is that dangerous? I'm 18 years old.

By anon133581 — On Dec 11, 2010

i got a bone scan done for my hip joint and the first diagnosis was an avecular necrosis stage 1, but when the bone scan was shown to the orthopedic surgeon he felt that it was a bone island. how can one tell the difference between a bone island and an avecular necrosis stage 1?

By anon120458 — On Oct 21, 2010

I have bone island and am having pain in my upper left arm. so much pain also burns like fire. Does anyone know any treatment for bone island?

By EarlyForest — On Oct 02, 2010

Can you tell me what the difference between a bone island and an osteoma is?

I know that an osteoma is a type of bone growth, but I wasn't sure if it was the same kind of growth as a bone island or not.

Do you know?

By pharmchick78 — On Oct 02, 2010

Rarely, a form of cancer called a chondrosarcoma can present with symptoms similar to a bone island. Chondrosarcoma is a cancer of the cartilage, and about 25% of bone cancers originate as a chondrosarcoma. Most of the time chondrosarcoma appears in older people, but it can affect people of any age.

The symptoms of chondrosarcoma are similar to those of a bone island: swelling and localized pain. The pain is usually worse at night, and is dull rather than sharp in nature.

Most of the time symptoms last up to two years before people get them checked out.

Though it's easy to mistake the symptoms of chondrosarcoma for something else, and most of the time such symptoms do not indicate chondrosarcoma; you should still ask your doctor to check it out if you've been having symptoms like this for a long time.

Chances are that it's nothing serious, but it's still better to get it checked out just in case, as most bone cancers go undiagnosed until it's too late for effective treatment.

By rallenwriter — On Oct 02, 2010

I had a friend who was recently diagnosed with a bone island in her femur -- the way they found out about it was actually pretty interesting. She had been in a car accident, and they were X-raying her leg to make sure she was OK, and poof, enostosis (bone island).

It hasn't interfered with her health before, so they're just leaving it for the time being, but it made me wonder just how many people actually have bone islands without knowing it.

I guess that's one of the benefits of those full-body scans...but I think I'd rather not know, unless it was dangerous or something.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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