Osteosarcoma is a cancerous (malignant) bone tumor that usually develops in teenagers. It occurs when a teen is growing rapidly.
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer in children. Average age at diagnosis is 15. Boys and girls are just as likely to get this tumor until the late teens, when it occurs more often in boys. Osteosarcoma is also common in people over age 60.
The cause is not known. In some cases, osteosarcoma runs in families. At least one gene has been linked to an increased risk. This gene is also associated with familial retinoblastoma. This is a cancer of the eye that occurs in children.
Osteosarcoma tends to occur in the bones of the:
Shin (near the knee)
Thigh (near the knee)
Upper arm (near the shoulder)
Osteosarcoma occurs most commonly in large bones in the area of bone with the fastest growth rate. However, it can occur in any bone.
Bone fracture (may occur after a routine movement)
Treatment usually starts after a biopsy of the tumor is done.
Before surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy is usually given. This can shrink the tumor and make surgery easier. It may also kill any cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Surgery is used after chemotherapy to remove any remaining tumor. In most cases, surgery can remove the tumor while saving the affected limb. This is called limb-sparing surgery. In rare cases, more involved surgery (such as amputation) is necessary.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you and your family not feel alone.
If the tumor has not spread to the lungs (pulmonary metastasis), long-term survival rates are better. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the outlook is worse. However, there is still a chance of cure with effective treatment.
Spread of cancer to the lungs
Side effects of chemotherapy
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have persistent bone pain, tenderness, or swelling.
Anderson ME, Randall RL, Springfield DS, Gebhardt MC. Sarcomas of bone. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 92.
National Cancer Institute. PDQ Osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma or bone treatment. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 5/23/2013. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/osteosarcoma/HealthProfessional. Accessed November 8, 2013.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Bone Cancer. Version 1.2014. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_glspdf/bone.pdf. Accessed November 8, 2013.
Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.