Key Points about Osteosarcoma

  • Osteosarcoma can develop in any bone in the body, but it most often occurs in the long bones of the arms or legs.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy, bone scan and physical exams to diagnose osteosarcoma.
  • Treatment for osteosarcoma may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.


Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that starts in the cells that form the bones. Although osteosarcoma can affect any bone in the body, it most often begins in the long bones of the legs or arms. This type of bone cancer most often affects teenagers and young adults.

Osteosarcoma causes

Osteosarcoma occurs when the cells of the bone develop mutations (changes) to their DNA and then multiply rapidly.

Osteosarcoma risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk for developing osteosarcoma include:

  • Having a bone disorder, such as Paget’s disease of bone and fibrous dysplasia
  • Having certain genetic inherited conditions, such as:
    • Bloom syndrome
    • Hereditary retinoblastoma
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Rothmund-Thomson syndrome
    • Werner syndrome
  • Having undergone radiation therapy

Osteosarcoma symptoms

Signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma can include:

  • Bone injury or break with no clear cause
  • Pain in the bone or joint
  • Swelling near a bone

Osteosarcoma diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, your symptoms and related risk factors.
  • Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the bone. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer.
  • Bone scan – during this imaging test, your doctor looks for areas of abnormalities in your bones that could indicate that you have bone cancer.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the bone cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the bone cancer.

Osteosarcoma treatments

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
  • Chemotherapy – you may need to also undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
  • Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

Find an oncologist near you

Bon Secours locations that can treat you