Although it is a rare form of cancer, osteosarcoma is an important one to understand because of its tendency to affect patients while they are young. The following information should help anyone dealing with this form of cancer or those with loved ones who have been diagnosed.
Osteosarcoma is a type of sarcoma, which is a kind of bone cancer. It’s also the most prevalent type of bone cancer, at least of those that actually begin in the bone. Once osteosarcoma begins spreading throughout the cells in a bone, it can greatly weaken the body’s infrastructure.
Most patients begin dealing with osteosarcoma as young children or teenagers. However, the affliction can come at any age. This form of sarcoma usually begins toward the end of one of the long bones of the leg. Specifically, it gravitates to the knee. The next most common place is the arm bone right around the shoulder. Other common areas for osteosarcoma to form are the pelvis, jaw and actual shoulder. Be advised, however, that this form of sarcoma can strike anywhere throughout the body.
Specific Types of Osteosarcoma
There are several subcategories of osteosarcoma too. Each one is based on the appearance of the osteosarcoma growth when x-rayed, as well as how it looks under the microscope. Aside from how they are addressed, the specific types of osteosarcoma also come with different outlooks as well.
The three subtypes are:
- Low-grade: These are tumors that look just like normal bones. They have very few dividing cells and grow slowly.
- Intermediate-grade: These tumors are often treated just like the low-grade kind though they are a bit larger.
- High-grade: These tumors look extremely abnormal, tend to grow extremely quickly and have many dividing cells as well. Unfortunately, this is the most common type of osteosarcoma is children and teens.
No matter what subtype of osteosarcoma is involved, a patient’s doctor will still most likely recommend an aggressive treatment regimen.
As we mentioned at the beginning, the good news is that osteosarcoma is a very rare form of cancer. Currently, there are only about 800 new cases of it in the United States, though half of those represent children and teenagers. Roughly 2% of childhood cancer patients suffer from osteosarcoma and that number is much smaller in adults.
At this time, no one knows what causes this type of sarcoma. However, certain risk factors have been identified. Unfortunately, none of them are lifestyle-related, meaning you can’t simply change your diet or get more exercise to try and avoid osteosarcoma. What you can do, though, is learn them and then keep a wary eye if you notice any of these factors in yourself.
Aside from age, which we’ve covered, osteosarcoma tends to affect males more than females. Those who are tall for their age are at a greater risk. African Americans are diagnosed more often than Caucasians. People who have other types of bone diseases (non-cancerous kinds) suffer from a higher rate of diagnosis too. The two most common types of bone disease related to osteosarcoma are multiple hereditary osteochondromas and Paget disease.
Another possible risk factor associated with osteosarcoma is having a rare, inherited cancer syndrome like Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Bloom syndrome, Rothmund-Thompson syndrome, Diamond-Blackfan ameni or Werner syndrome.
The only risk factor that doesn’t have a biological basis is radiation treatment. Many of those who get diagnosed with osteosarcoma were first diagnosed with another form of cancer and underwent radiation therapy to address it.
Although the medical community still has a lot to learn about osteosarcoma, your prognosis against this type of sarcoma will look much better if you visit a doctor the moment you become suspicious you may have it.