Osteosarcoma is a cancer that begins in your bone forming cells. It is the most common type of tumor in the group of bone cancers called osteogenic sarcomas.
A Few Interesting Facts….
About 5% of all teens with cancer are diagnosed with osteosarcoma. It is associated with rapid growth, so it is rarely seen in kids before puberty. Osteosarcoma affects more guys (usually between ages 15-19) than girls (usually between ages 10-14) and most kids are taller than average.
The First Signs and Steps…
You might have first noticed something was wrong when you started having pain or swelling in or near one of your bones. The pain might have been worse at night or when you were exercising. These are usually the most common symptoms. Your doctor probably ordered x-rays and blood tests and suggested that you see a specialist called an orthopedic oncologist. When osteosarcoma is suspected, a biopsy is often the next step to see if there are any cancer cells in the tissue. About 90% of all osteosarcomas are located in the extremities (arms and legs) and most often in the bones around the knee.
Levels of Osteosarcoma
Unlike some cancers, osteosarcoma does not really have a staging system but does have different levels:
- Localized – in only one part of your body
- Metastatic – spread to other parts of your body
The most common site of metastasis is your lung. It is believed that roughly 80% of people with osteosarcoma have micrometastatic (not evident) disease when they are diagnosed, even if it cannot be seen on x-rays and CT scans.
So, What Do We Do Now?
Your therapy will likely consist of chemotherapy and surgery.
- You will probably receive chemotherapy initially to shrink your tumor and kill any metastatic cells (cells that have spread to other parts of your body).
- Surgery is usually then performed using a limb salvage procedure, when possible. Limb salvage is a procedure in which your tumor, your bone, and some of the surrounding tissues are removed and then replaced with a bone graft or titanium rod.If your cancer has spread to other parts of your body and did not respond to your initial chemotherapy, these lesions might need to be surgically removed also. If your tumor has spread beyond the bone to the nerves and blood vessels, part or all of your limb may need to be amputated. This is really the pits if it happens to you, but teens who have limbs amputated are usually fitted with a prosthesis (pros-THEE-sis), or artificial limb. Most kids adapt really well and are able to return to all their normal activities – even sports and dancing. If you want, read the story of a recent Olympic torch carrier.
- After you recover from your surgery, you will have more chemotherapy to continue to treat any metastatic disease. This is referred to as adjuvant therapy (just a useful bit of information!)
First, many support resources are available to help you cope. You just need to find the one that works best for you. Counseling, physical therapy, teen support groups, your family and friends – all are available to help. Most importantly, most teens with osteosarcoma do recover. The overall survival rate for localized disease is 70 – 75%. Keep seeing yourself among this group! Visualize yourself leading the pack at the Boston Marathon! The road may seem hard at times, but with determination and persistence, you will make it.