Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer, or tumor, in children and adolescents and the third most common childhood cancer. In the U.S., 400 new cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed each year. Most patients are diagnosed with osteosarcoma in adolescence between the ages of 10 and 19 years old. Children below 5 years of age are rarely diagnosed with this type of cancer. Osteosarcoma occurs more frequently in males than in females.
Although tumors can occur in any bone, they most frequently occur in the long bones of the arms and legs near the ends where tissue grows, called growth plates. The most common sites are the femur (thighbone) above the knee, the fibula (shinbone) below the knee and the humerus (upper arm bone).
Other significant locations are the skull, jaw and hip bones. By the time of diagnosis, 15 to 20 percent of patients have growing tumors that have spread to the lungs or other bones.
The exact cause of osteosarcoma is unknown, and it cannot be prevented because it is a random mutation or change in the cells inside the bones. The only known environmental risk factor is exposure to radiation, as in previous radiation therapy for some other type of cancer.
About 3 to 4 percent of children with osteosarcoma carry mutations in certain genes that increase their risk for osteosarcoma. Diseases with mutations which increase the risk for osteosarcoma include:
Symptoms of osteosarcoma may appear weeks or months before it is diagnosed.
Imaging procedures are the first step in diagnosing osteosarcoma. These may include:
If imaging locates a tumor, a surgeon will take a biopsy (tissue sample) of the tumor. A pathologist (a physician who examines tissues) will then examine the cells under a microscope for signs of cancer. Once the pathologist confirms a diagnosis of osteosarcoma, an oncologist (cancer doctor) will evaluate all of the results to stage the tumor. Staging means assessing if the osteosarcoma has spread to the lungs or other bones.
Doctors at Riley at IU Health treat osteosarcoma with a combination of the following:
Visit these websites to learn more about osteosarcoma, its symptoms and treatments.
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