Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Osteogenic sarcoma (Pediatric)

What is osteogenic sarcoma?

Also called osteosarcoma, osteogenic sarcoma is one of the most common types of bone cancer in children and accounts for nearly 3 percent of all childhood cancers. About 400 children are diagnosed with osteosarcoma each year.

The disease usually occurs in the long bones, such as the arms (humerus), legs (femur/tibia) and pelvis. It rarely occurs in the jaw and fingers, but often occurs at the ends of these bones near growth plates. Osteosarcoma most often affects children between 10 and 25 years of age.

This cancer also is more prevalent in males than in females, possibly because of the rapid growth rate at this age. Prior to adolescence, the percentage of affected males and females is equal.

Osteogenic sarcoma cancer cells also can spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. Most commonly, these cells spread to the lungs. However, bones, kidneys, the adrenal gland, the brain and the heart also can be sites of metastasis.

What causes osteogenic sarcoma?

It has been suggested that repeated trauma to an area may be a risk factor for developing this type of cancer. It is uncertain whether trauma is a cause or effect of the disease. Cancer lesions in the bone can make that area of the bone weaker, thus, making injury more likely. However, repeated injuries to a certain area of the bone may lead to an increased production of osteoid tissue to repair the damaged area. The rapid production of osteoid tissue may lead to the malignancy. It is thought, most often, that injury simply brings the condition to attention and has no causal relationship.

Genetics may play an important role in developing osteosarcoma. Children and adults with other hereditary abnormalities, including exostoses (bony growths), retinoblastoma, Ollier’s disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, polyostotic fibrous dysplasia and Paget’s disease, have an increased risk for developing osteosarcoma.

This form of cancer also has been linked to exposure to ionizing irradiation associated with radiation therapy for other types of cancer (i.e., Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s disease).

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What are the symptoms of osteogenic sarcoma?

The following are the most common symptoms of osteogenic sarcoma; however, each child may experience symptoms differently:

  • Pain (sharp or dull) at the site of the tumor.
  • Swelling and/or redness at the site of the tumor.
  • Increased pain with activity or lifting.Limping.
  • Decreased movement of the affected limb.

The symptoms may have been present over a short period of time or may have been occurring for six months or more. Often, an injury brings a child into a medical facility, where an X-ray may indicate suspicious bone lesions.

The symptoms of osteogenic sarcoma may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis.

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How is osteogenic sarcoma diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination of your child, diagnostic procedures for osteogenic sarcoma may include the following methods:

  • Multiple imaging studies of the tumor and sites of possible metastasis, such as:
    • X-rays – a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones and organs onto film. This test is used to measure and evaluate the curve.
    • Bone scans – a nuclear imaging method to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joints; to detect bone diseases and tumors; to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation. This test is to rule out any infection or fractures.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.This test is done to rule out any associated abnormalities of the spinal cord and nerves.
    • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Complete blood count – a measurement of size, number and maturity of different blood cells in a specific volume of blood.
  • Blood tests – including blood chemistries.
  • Biopsy of the tumor.

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Treatment for osteogenic sarcoma

Specific treatment for osteogenic sarcoma will be determined by your child’s physician based on:

  • Your child’s age, overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your child’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the disease.
  • Your opinion or preference.

Treatment may include, but is not limited to, one or more of the following methods:

  • Surgery – i.e., biopsy, resections, bone/skin grafts, limb-salvage procedures, reconstructions.
  • Amputation.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Resections of metastases – spreading of the tumor to other locations.
  • Rehabilitation including physical and occupational therapy and psychosocial adapting.
  • Prosthesis fitting and training.
  • Supportive care – for the side effects of treatment.
  • Antibiotics – to prevent and treat infections.
  • Continued follow-up care – to determine response to treatment, detect recurrent disease and manage the side effects of treatment.

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Long-term outlook for a child with osteogenic sarcoma

Prognosis for osteogenic sarcoma greatly depends on:

  • Extent of the disease.
  • Size and location of the tumor.
  • Presence or absence of metastasis.
  • Tumor’s response to therapy.
  • Age and overall health of your child.
  • Your child’s tolerance of specific medications, procedures or therapies.
  • New developments in treatment.

As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from child to child. Every child is unique, and treatment and prognosis are structured around the child's needs. Prompt medical attention and aggressive therapy are important for the best prognosis. Continuous follow-up care is essential for a child diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma. Side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as second malignancies, can occur in survivors of osteogenic sarcoma. New methods are continually being discovered to improve treatment and to decrease side effects.