Summary

Key Points

  • Osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of the bone are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in bone.
  • Having past treatment with radiation can increase the risk of osteosarcoma.
  • Signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma and MFH include swelling over a bone or a bony part of the body and joint pain.
  • Imaging tests are used to detect (find) osteosarcoma and MFH.
  • A biopsy is done to diagnose osteosarcoma.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of the bone are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in bone.

Osteosarcoma usually starts in osteoblasts, which are a type of bone cell that becomes new bone tissue. Osteosarcoma is most common in adolescents. It commonly forms in the ends of the long bones of the body, which include bones of the arms and legs. In children and adolescents, it often forms in the bones near the knee. Rarely, osteosarcoma may be found in soft tissue or organs in the chest or abdomen.

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer. Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of bone is a rare tumor of the bone. It is treated like osteosarcoma.

Ewing sarcoma is another kind of bone cancer, but it is not covered in this summary. See the PDQ summary about Ewing Sarcoma Treatment for more information.

Risk Factors

Having past treatment with radiation can increase the risk of osteosarcoma.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk. Risk factors for osteosarcoma include the following:

  • Past treatment with radiation therapy.
  • Past treatment with anticancer drugs called alkylating agents.
  • Having a certain change in the retinoblastoma gene.
  • Having certain conditions, such as the following:


    • Hereditary retinoblastoma.
    • Paget disease.
    • Diamond-Blackfan anemia.
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
    • Rothmund-Thomson syndrome.
    • Bloom syndrome.
    • Werner syndrome.

Screening and Detection

Imaging tests are used to detect (find) osteosarcoma and MFH.

Imaging tests are done before the biopsy. The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • X-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the body. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).

A biopsy is done to diagnose osteosarcoma.
Cells and tissues are removed during a biopsy so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. It is important that the biopsy be done by a surgeon who is an expert in treating cancer of the bone. It is best if that surgeon is also the one who removes the tumor. The biopsy and the surgery to remove the tumor are planned together. The way the biopsy is done affects which type of surgery can be done later.
The type of biopsy that is done will be based on the size of the tumor and where it is in the body. There are two types of biopsy that may be used:

  • Core biopsy: The removal of tissue using a wide needle.
  • Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue that doesn't look normal.

The following test may be done on the tissue that is removed:

  • Light and electron microscopy: A laboratory test in which cells in a sample of tissue are viewed under regular and high-powered microscopes to look for certain changes in the cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma and MFH include swelling over a bone or a bony part of the body and joint pain.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by osteosarcoma or MFH or by other conditions. Check with a doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Swelling over a bone or bony part of the body.
  • Pain in a bone or joint.
  • A bone that breaks for no known reason.

Treatment Options

Some cancer treatments cause side effects months or years after treatment has ended.

Side effects from cancer treatment that begin during or after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include the following:

  • Physical problems.
  • Changes in mood, feelings, thinking, learning, or memory.
  • Second cancers (new types of cancer).

Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information).

Four types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery to remove the entire tumor will be done when possible. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to make the tumor smaller. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is given so less bone tissue needs to be removed and there are fewer problems after surgery.

The following types of surgery may be done:

  • Wide local excision: Surgery to remove the cancer and some healthy tissue around it.
  • Limb-sparing surgery: Removal of the tumor in a limb (arm or leg) without amputation, so the use and appearance of the limb is saved. Most patients with osteosarcoma in a limb can be treated with limb-sparing surgery. The tumor is removed by wide local excision. Tissue and bone that are removed may be replaced with a graft using tissue and bone taken from another part of the patient's body, or with an implant such as artificial bone. If a fracture is found at diagnosis or during chemotherapy before surgery, limb-sparing surgery may still be possible in some cases. If the surgeon is not able to remove all of the tumor and enough healthy tissue around it, an amputation may be done.
  • Amputation: Surgery to remove part or all of an arm or leg. This may be done when it is not possible to remove all of the tumor in limb-sparing surgery. The patient may be fitted with a prosthesis (artificial limb) after amputation.
  • Rotationplasty: Surgery to remove the tumor and the knee joint. The part of the leg that remains below the knee is then attached to the part of the leg that remains above the knee, with the foot facing backward and the ankle acting as a knee. A prosthesis may then be attached to the foot.

Studies have shown that survival is the same whether the first surgery done is a limb-sparing surgery or an amputation.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, patients are also given chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left in the area where the tumor was removed or that have spread to other parts of the body. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is the use of more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

In the treatment of osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytosis of bone, chemotherapy is usually given before and after surgery to remove the primary tumor.

See Drugs Approved for Bone Cancer for more information.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Osteosarcoma and MFH cells are not killed easily by radiation therapy. It may be used when a small amount of cancer is left after surgery or used together with other treatments.

Samarium

Samarium is a radioactive drug that targets areas where bone cells are growing, such as tumor cells in bone. It helps relieve pain caused by cancer in the bone and it also kills blood cells in the bone marrow. It also is used to treat osteosarcoma that has come back after treatment in a different bone.

Treatment with samarium may be followed by stem cell transplant. Before treatment with samarium, stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient and are frozen and stored. After treatment with samarium is complete, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs or other substances to find and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Kinase inhibitor therapy is a type of targeted therapy being studied in clinical trials for osteosarcoma. Kinase inhibitor therapy blocks a protein needed for cancer cells to divide.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Last Updated: 2015-10-29

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