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Nearly 80% of the tumors are in the thighbone (femur) or lower leg bones (tibia or fibula). They also may develop in the upper arm bone (humerus). Usually, tumors develop during “growth spurts,” or periods of rapid growth in the teen years.
Although osteosarcoma may appear to be in only one location in the lower leg or forearm, almost all patients have tumor cells called micrometastases in the lungs.
Bones support, give structure to body
Bones, which usually are hollow, have three main parts:
Matrix: The outer part of bones, which is made of fiber-like tissue and covered with a layer of tissue called the periosteum.
Bone marrow: The soft tissue in the space in hollow bones, which is called the medullary cavity. Cells inside bone marrow include:
- Fat cells
- Red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets
- Fibroblasts, a type of cell that helps build connective tissue
- Plasma, in which blood cells are suspended
Cartilage: Material that is at the end of most bones. It is softer than bone, but it is firmer than soft tissue. Cartilage and other tissues, including ligaments, make up joints, which connect some bones.
Bone constantly changes as new bone forms and old bone dissolves. To make new bone, the body deposits calcium into the cartilage. Some of the cartilage stays at the ends of bones to make joints.
Many types of cancer that start in other organs of the body can spread to the bones. These are sometimes referred to as metastatic bone cancers, but they are not true bone cancers.
Osteosarcoma risk factors
The cause of osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is unknown, and it usually does not run in families. However, certain things seem to put children at a higher risk of developing osteosarcoma:
- Age: Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is most common in people between 10 and 30 years old, particularly teenagers in rapid growth cycles or “growth spurts.”
- Height: Most children with osteosarcoma are tall for their ages.
- Gender: More males than females develop the disease.
- Race: African Americans have a slightly higher risk of osteosarcoma.
- Previous radiation therapy
- Non-cancer bone diseases including Paget's disease and osteochondromas
- Rare inherited cancer syndromes, including, Li-Fraumeni, Rothmund-Thompson, and the RB1 gene mutation, which causes retinoblastoma
- Other rare genetic conditions, including Bloom syndrome and Werner syndrome
Osteosarcoma is rare, and not everyone with risk factors gets the disease. However, if you are concerned about your child’s risk for bone cancer, you should talk to his or her doctor.
Learn more about childhood osteosarcoma:
Some cases of osteosarcoma can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic testing page.
Why choose MD Anderson for childhood osteosarcoma care?
At MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital, our customized approach to osteosarcoma, or pediatric osteosarcoma, means that each child is the focus of a highly specialized group of experts. This team follows your child closely from diagnosis through survivorship, ensuring a continuity of care that can make an important difference to your child and family.
Childhood osteosarcoma is rare, and many oncologists have little experience treating it. Our program is one of the nation's most active, translating into a high degree of expertise.
Leading-edge diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis of sarcomas can be challenging, but accurate findings are essential to successful treatment. Our pathologists are focused on osteosarcoma, which means they know what to look for to diagnose this type of bone cancer, and they use the latest, most sophisticated tests to pinpoint the type and extent of the cancer.
Treatment of bone cancer often requires a multi-level approach. Children's Cancer Hospital's specialized surgeons use the most advanced techniques to save limbs, and they are joined by dedicated oncologists, radiologists, rehabilitation experts, nurses and therapists. We offer the very latest in chemotherapy and other types of treatments.
Research and discovery
Many patients with osteosarcoma are treated with clinical trials. We participate in protocols of the Children's Oncology Group and offer innovative treatments through clinical trials, many available only at Children's Cancer Hospital and a few other hospitals in the nation.
Our Osteosarcoma and Ewing's Sarcoma Center coordinates care and access to clinical trials, streamlining and expediting enrollment in clinical trials. In addition, sarcoma researchers work with clinicians to translate laboratory research into new clinical trials.
Researchers at Children's Cancer Hospital are pioneering new, less toxic and more effective treatments for osteosarcoma. For instance, they discovered chemotherapy can be used with radiation to control osteosarcoma tumors that cannot be removed surgically. They are investigating new targeted therapies, as well as aerosolized treatments that target osteosarcoma that has metastasized to the lungs.
Children's Cancer Hospital is designed just for children, with a full range of services and amenities that help make the child and family's experience as comfortable as possible. We go beyond medical care to deliver a comprehensive experience that treats the whole child.
And at Children's Cancer Hospital, your child benefits from the resources and expertise of one of the nation's top cancer centers.
The one gift cancer gave me is perspective. Now each day is a new day and is filled with possibilities.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be
found anywhere else.
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Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.