The most used treatment for bone cancer pain is radiation; however, the mechanism responsible for analgesia after irradiation is unknown. The mechanistic influence of a single, localized 10-, 20- or 30-Gy dose of radiation on painful behaviors, osteolysis, histopathology and osteoclast number was evaluated in mice with painful femoral sarcomas. Dramatic reductions in pain behaviors (P < 0.05) and osteolysis (P < 0.0001) were seen in mice irradiated with 20 and 30 Gy. Irradiation reduced the tumor area by more than 75% (P < 0.05) but did not affect osteoclast frequency per mm2 tumor. Treatment with 20 Gy prior to tumor injection had no effect on tumor growth or pain behaviors, suggesting that radiation reduces osteolysis and pain through direct tumor effects. To demonstrate that tumor elimination was responsible for reduction in osteolysis and pain, sarcoma cells containing the suicide gene cytosine deaminase (CD) were inoculated into femora. After onset of bone cancer pain, mice were treated with the prodrug 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC). 5-FC treatment significantly reduced both osteolysis (P < 0.0005) and bone cancer pain (P < 0.05). The findings in this study demonstrate that one mechanism through which radiation decreases bone cancer pain is by direct effects on tumor cells.