An osteosarcoma is a very aggressive malignant bone cancer. It is fairly rare with approximately 5 million cases each year seen in the United States in people below the age of 20. It is the eighth most common form of cancer found in children. Osteosarcoma is seen slightly more frequently in males. The most common bones where it occurs are in long bones such as the femur, tibia, and humerus. Approximately 60% of cases of osteosarcoma occur in areas around the knee. They can, however, also be found in the skull, jaw and pelvis.
The exact cause of osteosarcoma is not known, but it is suspected that genetics play a role. A higher risk of developing an osteosarcoma has been linked to Paget’s disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Rothmund-Thomson syndrome. There has also been a link to communities where fluoride is added to the water. One study showed an almost 7% higher risk in those who drank water with fluoride added. There are many variations of osteosarcoma including multifocal, telangiectatic and small cell.
Osteosarcoma Signs & Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma can be general and therefore difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are usually worse at night. The tumors sometimes swell so much that they cause pain and can be felt. The affected bone is also prone to fracture because it isn’t as strong as other bones.
Osteosarcoma is often misdiagnosed because it is seen so rarely. Proper diagnosis is reached by first doing an x-ray. Additional scans like an MRI and a CAT scan are needed after that. Finally only a biopsy can reveal the true diagnosis.
Current treatment plans usually include chemotherapy and surgery. Doctors do all they can to prevent having to amputate an arm or a leg, but not doing so can lead to further complications such as infection and recurring tumors. Since each case is different the treatment plan depends on the person’s age, the stage of the cancer and the location of the cancer. A mix of medications is also often used to prevent the cancer from recurring.
Unfortunately in the past prognosis for those suffering from osteosarcoma has not been very good. Recently this has begun to improve. In 2009 a study was done that showed a long-term survival rate of 68%. Stage I osteosarcoma has a 90% recovery rate while Stage III osteosarcoma can spread to the lungs and has a much lower recovery rate of only 30%.