Q&A: Osteosarcoma

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Osteosarcoma is the most common form of bone cancer in teenagers, affecting more males than females and often leading to amputation of the affected limb. Until the 1970s, the prognosis for someone with the disease was bleak, with a cure rate of 10% to 20%. However, recent advances in treatment, especially in chemotherapy, have increased survival.

Robert Benjamin, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology, answers questions about this disease.

What is osteosarcoma?  
It is the most common primary malignant tumor of the bone. It is very rare, affecting only about 900 patients a year in the United States.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can include swelling around the knee or in the forearm, as well as pain that becomes progressively worse over two or more weeks.

How is it diagnosed?  
X-rays show any abnormality and often help make the diagnosis. Computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) give more details as to the extent of involvement. The diagnosis is then confirmed by needle biopsy.

Are there any known risk factors or causes?
In the vast majority of cases, there are no known risk factors.

Who is most at risk of developing osteosarcoma and why?
Teenagers and young adults are at greatest risk because osteosarcoma is usually associated with growth spurts during adolescence.

What are the treatment options?  
Although osteosarcoma appears localized to the primary site in the lower leg or forearm, 80% to 90% of patients harbor clinically undetectable metastatic disease in the lungs.
Treatment, therefore, is with chemotherapy from day one, followed by surgery to remove the affected bone, usually with reconstruction, followed by more chemotherapy.

M. D. Anderson resources:

Advances in the Treatment of Osteosarcoma (podcast)

Additional resources:
Osteosarcoma (National Cancer Institute)

All About Osteosarcoma

1 Comment

This is a very interesting blog post, and I had no idea about this type of cancer. The symptoms associated with this type of cancer are very interesting. I would be curious to know how doctors would differentiate this type of diagnosis with that of someone who has blood clots in the leg. I know this is a rare occurrence in teenagers, but I was a teenager when I developed seven blood clots in my left leg. How would doctors be able to tell the difference in diagnosis? Either way, I did not know a lot about this type of cancer, and it's important to learn about it as early as possible because it can effect someone so early in life.

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