Chondrosarcoma is a cartilaginous cancer (a cartilage-based bone cancer) that represents approximately 25% of all primary bone cancer cases. Cartilage is a gristly connective tissue present in joints, the nose, ears, chest cavity, and many other structures in the body. It plays a significant role in the human growth process, and continues to aid the body after skeletal maturity.
Chondrosarcomas most frequently affect the cartilage cells of the knee, femur (thigh bone), arm, spine, and pelvis. Other areas (such as the ribs) can also be affected, but these incidents are quite rare.
Chondrosarcoma Symptoms and Features
The symptoms of chondrosarcoma vary depending on the location of the tumor. Furthermore, a patient’s age and overall health typically influence the onset and severity of certain symptoms.
Common symptoms associated with chondrosarcoma include, but are no limited to:
- Pain that is more severe at night and is relieved by taking anti-inflammatory medications
- Pain that gradually worsens over time
- A large mass on the affected bone and/or joint
- Feelings of pressure around the joint or bone mass
- Pain that is not relieved through rest
Following a complete medical history review and several standard physical exam procedures, a chondrosarcoma may be diagnosed using a variety of imaging techniques. The technique that is most frequently employed to diagnose this disease is computed tomography (CT scan). CT scans produce a more detailed image than an x-ray and are less costly than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Both x-ray and MRI, though, can be employed to detect chondrosarcoma masses in the body.
A physician might also recommend the removal of tissue samples to be analyzed under a microscope. This procedure is known as biopsy. In many chondrosarcoma cases, the tissue can be extracted with a needle, but if the chondrosarcoma is located centrally in the body, then the biopsy necessitates surgery. Microscopically evaluating these tissue samples confirms whether or not the affected cells are benign or cancerous.
There are no key diagnostic features that can be observed through blood tests.
Chondrosarcomas are relatively rare. As a result, they are treated at hospitals with specialized sarcoma centers. Treatment always depends on the location and aggressiveness of the tumor.
Surgical resection is considered to be the standard method, and only curative method, for treating chondrosarcoma. Musculoskeletal tumor specialist or orthopedic oncologists typically perform these resections. In cases where the chondrosarcoma affects the skull, spine, or chest cavity, a neurosurgeon or a thoracic surgeon usually performs the operation.
This disease does not usually respond to chemotherapy and/or radiation therapies. Proton therapy (the aiming of energetic ionizing particles [protons] at the tumor), however, has been shown to reduce tumor size and development in cases where the cancer is centrally located. A reduction in tumor size will make surgery more manageable and effective.
Prognosis depends on the aggressiveness of the cancer and when it is detected. Approximately 90% of patients whose cancer is detected early will survive more than 5 years after the diagnosis. Chondrosarcomas frequently recur and, thus, follow up scans are vital to a good long-term prognosis.