Osteosarcoma is a disease in which malignant cancer cells are found in the bone. It is the most commonly diagnosed form of bone cancer occurring in children, teens and young adults.
Osteosarcoma most often occurs during growth spurts, and typically forms in the long bones—arms and legs—most commonly around the knees. It is very rarely found in the soft tissues of the body or organs of the chest or abdomen. The symptoms and chances of recovery are the same for children and adolescents. Although rare, it can occur in adults.
Malignant fibrous histiocytoma or MFH of the bone is a rare tumor treated like osteosarcoma. It may occur following radiation treatments.
After late adolescence, males seem to be more at risk of developing osteosarcoma than females. The average age is 15. Although the cause of bone cancer is unknown, osteosarcoma can run in families. At least one gene has been linked to increased risk. This gene is also associated with familial retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that occurs in children. As in cases of MFH, having past radiation therapy or treatment with anticancer drugs called alkylating agents can also be risk factors for developing osteosarcoma.
Osteosarcoma and MFH can cause symptoms such as swelling or redness over a bone or bony part of the body, pain or tenderness in a bone or joint, or a bone that seems to break for no known reason.
Diagnosing osteosarcoma and MFH typically rely on imaging tests before a biopsy is done. This may include x-rays, CAT scan or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to get detailed information. If a biopsy is needed, the size and location of the tumor will determine the type of biopsy to be used. A surgeon with expertise in treating cancer of the bone usually performs this procedure.
Recovery and long-term survival is high if the tumor has not spread to the lungs (pulmonary metastasis). If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, outcome is still good with effective treatment. In addition to pulmonary metastasis, other complications include chemotherapy side effects and limb removal.
Ted Kennedy Jr. was 12 years old when the throbbing pain in his leg was diagnosed as osteosarcoma. Part of his right leg was amputated the very next day and he went through two years of chemotherapy. By participating in an early clinical trial for osteosarcoma treatment, he also helped advance research in pediatric oncology.
“When Ted Jr. was treated for his tumor, his chance of being cured was in the 10 to 15 percent range. As a result of that trial and others that followed, that figure is now 60 to 70 percent,” said Emil Frei III, M.D., now physician-in-chief emeritus at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Kennedy is now a healthcare attorney and advocate for cancer patients and people with disabilities.
More information on osteosarcoma and MFH is available from the National Cancer Institute’s Bone Cancer: Questions and Answers page at
To learn more about clinical trials and how to participate in one, visit http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials
Lynette Summerill, is an award-winning journalist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.