What is osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that typically develops in the shinbone (tibia) near the knee, the thighbone (femur) near the knee, or the upper arm bone (humerus) near the shoulder.

Osteosarcoma tends to develop during growth spurts in early adolescence. This may be because the risk of tumors increases during this period of rapid bone growth.

How common is osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in children. This type of cancer is more common in boys than in girls. It is also more common in tall children and African-Americans. In children, the average age of diagnosis is 15. Osterosarcoma can be seen in adults over the age of 60 and it can also be seen in people who have undergone radiation for cancer treatment. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of osteosarcoma?

The common symptoms of osteosarcoma are:

  • Swelling or lumps around bones or the ends of bones.
  • Bone or joint pain or soreness. This pain may come and go for months.
  • Broken bones that don’t seem to be caused by normal events like a fall.

Your child may have pain at night or after he plays or exercises. He might get a limp if osteosarcoma affects his legs.

Tell your doctor about these symptoms right away. Your child may need to be tested to see if cancer is causing the pain, swelling, or breaks.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes osteosarcoma?

The condition stems from an error in your child’s DNA, or genetic code. Bone-growing cells make osteosarcoma tumors by mistake.

Teenagers who are having a “growth spurt” are most likely to get it, and taller kids may be more at risk. There may also be a link between the speed of the growth spurt and tumor development, but scientists are still studying this.

Treatments like radiation therapy for other types of cancer, or cancer medicines called alkylating agents, can also make this disease more likely. Certain illnesses, like Paget’s disease of the bone or a type of eye cancer called hereditary retinoblastoma, may also raise the risk.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for osteosarcoma?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is osteosarcoma diagnosed?

Your child’s doctor can use a variety of tools to diagnose osteosarcoma. They will first conduct a physical examination to look for swelling and redness. The doctor will also request information about your child’s medical history. This includes previous illnesses and past medical treatments.

Your child’s doctor may do a simple blood test to check for tumor markers. These are chemical readings in the blood that indicate the presence of cancer. Other tests used to diagnose osteosarcoma include:

  • CT scan: a 3-D X-ray used to examine bones and soft organs in the body
  • MRI: uses sound waves and powerful magnets to create images of internal organs
  • X-ray: produces images of dense tissue inside the body, including bone
  • PET scan: a full body scan often used to detect cancer
  • Biopsy: removal of a tissue sample from the bone for testing
  • Bone scan: a sensitive imaging test that shows bone abnormalities that may be missed by other imaging tools (bone scans can also tell doctors whether the cancer has spread to other bones)

How is osteosarcoma treated?

There are different kinds of treatment for osteosarcoma. It depends on several things, such as where the tumor is, how fast it’s growing, and whether it has spread. Age and overall health are also factored in.

Most people with osteosarcoma need both surgery and chemotherapy. Some also get radiation therapy.


The goal of surgery is to remove all the cancer. If even a small number of cancer cells are left behind, they can grow into a new tumor.

For tumors in the arms and legs: In most cases, your surgeon will be able to remove the tumor and some of the tissue around it and save your child’s limb. A special medical device, or prosthesis, will fill in part or all of the gap left in the bone. Your doctor may also consider a bone graft, which uses a piece of bone from another part of the body or from a donor.

If the tumor is large and has gotten into nerves or blood vessels, the surgeon may have to amputate or remove all or part of your child’s leg or arm. Depending on how much needs to be amputated, your child may need to get fitted for an artificial limb, or prosthetic.

Each of these surgeries can have short-term side effects and cause long-term social and emotional issues. Talk to your doctor about your child’s best options and what to expect after surgery.

For tumors in other areas: Osteosarcoma that forms in the pelvis, jaw bone, spine, or skull may be harder to remove completely with surgery. For this kind of cancer, some people also need radiation therapy. If the cancer spreads to the lungs or elsewhere, those tumors also need to be surgically removed.


“Chemo” uses powerful medications to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. You usually get them through an IV tube.

Doctors treat most osteosarcomas with chemo. Your child’s doctor will talk with you about the timing of the chemo and surgery. Chemo may shrink the tumor, which makes surgery easier. It also gets rid of small clusters of cancer cells in the body that doctors may not be able to see on medical scans.

Children tend to have less severe side effects from chemo than adults. Because of this, your child’s cancer doctor may use higher doses of chemo to try to kill the tumor. Some side effects may include nausea and vomiting, not feeling hungry, and diarrhea.

Radiation Therapy

Usually, doctors don’t use radiation to treat osteosarcoma. But the doctor may talk with you about this option in certain circumstances.

Doctors can use high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It doesn’t work as well on osteosarcoma cells as it may with the cells of other cancers. But your doctor might consider what’s called external beam radiation therapy if surgery can’t remove all the cancer. That often happens when the tumor is in the hip or jaw bone.

This type of therapy focuses high-energy beams on the tumor from a machine outside the body to kill the remaining cancer cells.

New Therapies

Scientists are studying the best combination of chemo medications to treat osteosarcoma and testing newer types of drugs. Researchers are also working to develop more targeted and more powerful radiation therapies.

You may want to ask your doctor about clinical trials. These are how experts test potential new treatments before they’re made widely available. Your doctor can help you find one that might be a good match and help you understand what’s involved.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage osteosarcoma?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 27, 2017 | Last Modified: November 28, 2017

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