Childhood Bone Cancer
About 5% of all children who have cancer have osteosarcoma. The most prevalent of bone cancers, osteosarcoma is particularly common among children because it involves the growing ends of a bone. Older adults can get it, too, but most patients are between the ages of 6 and 25. Teenagers are the most likely of all age groups to develop this cancer, and boys are twice as likely as girls to get it. This is likely attributed to bones growing very rapidly during the adolescent years, especially for boys.
Osteosarcoma is generally found in the bones of the arms and legs, with most cases originating around the ends of the long bones that form the knee. If left untreated it can spread to any other part of the body. This is known as metastasis. Most osteosarcoma tumors metastasize to the lungs or to other bones. The chances of recovery are significantly decreased once a tumor has spread.
Symptoms vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms of osteosarcoma are pain, tenderness, and swelling of a bone or bone region. Most patients suffer a loss of mobility of the affected area. If the cancer is large enough to weaken the bone, the child may also suffer a bone fracture while performing even an ordinary movement. Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, weight loss, and anemia.
Parents who suspect that their child has a tumor should take him or her to the physician immediately. Diagnosing cancer will involve more than one doctor visit, more than one medical professional, and several tests that may include:
- Imaging tests (x-rays, MRIs, or CT Scans) to help determine if cancer is present and if it has spread.
- Blood test to determine the presence of cancer.
- Bone test to determine if cancer has spread.
- Biopsy to determine the type of cancer. Most biopsies are performed under general anesthesia, especially when children are involved.
Osteosarcoma looks similar to other bone cancers, so a positive diagnosis is made only after several tests have been performed and only after several medical professionals have reviewed the results. If osteosarcoma is present, the child's treatment may consist of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, or any combination of the three. Based on the stage of the tumor and the general physical condition of the child, the physician will recommend which course of treatment is best.
Although osteosarcoma only affects two out of every million people in the US, it changes the lives of the 900 people who are diagnosed with it each year. Two out of every three of those are children or young adults. Fortunately, advances in medical treatments and technologies have greatly improved the chances of recovery. Children whose osteosarcoma has not metastasized have a 70-90% chance of survival.
- "Osteosarcoma Online." (2006) Retrieved September 30, 2010, from the IU Simon Cancer Center: http://www.cancer.iu.edu/osteosarcoma/
- "Pediatric Oncology Resource Center." (2003, March.) Retrieved November 7, 2003, from the Association of Cancer Online Resources: http://www.acor.org/ped-onc/diseases/bone.html