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What is osteosarcoma and how is it treated?

Children with Cancer is a UK charity which aims to fight the UK’s biggest child killer: cancer. Statistically, every day at least 10 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer.

Each September Childhood Cancer Awareness Month highlights the impact of cancer on young people and their family. Awareness is key to improving the lives of these children, raising money for vital research into this tragic condition. Thanks to the efforts of charities like Children with Cancer, better drugs and treatments are developed and more children than ever are surviving childhood cancer.

Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer. About 30 children in the UK develop osteosarcomas each year. These tumours occur more commonly in older children and teenagers. They are very rarely seen in children under five. Osteosarcoma often starts at the ends of the long bones, where new bone tissue forms as a young person grows. Any bone in the body can be affected but the most common sites are in the arms and legs, particularly around the knee and shoulder joints.

Signs and symptoms of an osteosarcoma

Pain in the affected bone is the most common symptom and may initially come and go before gradually becoming more severe and constant, especially at night. There may also be swelling around the affected bone.

How is an osteosarcoma diagnosed?

If parents are concerned about their child’s symptoms they should make an appointment with their GP, who will examine the child and may arrange tests or x-rays. If a bone tumour is suspected, it is likely that the GP will refer the child to a specialist hospital or bone tumour centre for further tests.

Different tests and investigations may be needed to diagnose an osteosarcoma. An x-ray of the painful part of the bone will usually identify a tumour, although sometimes they can be difficult to see. A small operation called a biopsy may be carried out, which is performed under a general anaesthetic. During this procedure, a small piece of the tumour will be removed and looked at under a microscope. Other tests include chest x-ray, blood tests, a bone scan and an MRI or CT scan. All of these can help determine if the cancer has spread.

Staging of osteosarcoma and why prompt diagnosis is important

A cancer’s ‘stage’ describes its size and whether it has spread. Knowing the particular type and stage of the cancer helps the doctors to decide on the most appropriate treatment, which will vary depending on whether the cancer is found in one part of the body or whether it has spread. Prompt diagnosis before the cancer has spread is key.

A staging system commonly used for osteosarcomas is described below:

  • Stage 1A: The cancer is low-grade and is only found within the hard coating of the bone.
  • Stage 1B: The cancer is low-grade, extending outside the bone and into the soft tissue spaces that contain nerves and blood vessels.
  • Stage 2A: The cancer is high-grade and is completely contained within the hard coating of the bone.
  • Stage 2B: The cancer is high-grade and has spread outside the bone and into surrounding soft tissue spaces that contain nerves and blood vessels. Most osteosarcomas are stage 2B.
  • Stage 3: The cancer can be low or high-grade and is either found within the bone or extends outside the bone. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, or to other bones not directly connected to the bone where the tumour started.

Treatment for osteosarcoma

Once a diagnosis has been made and the staging of the cancer has been given, the doctors will consider what treatment can be given. This will depend on a number of factors including the timing of the diagnosis, the size, position and stage of the tumour.

  • Chemotherapy – anti-cancer drugs are used to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually given to shrink the tumour before surgery. It’s also given after the tumour has been removed by surgery, to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
  • Radiotherapy – treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Surgery – this will depend on the position and size of the tumour in the body.
  • Amputation – the whole or part of the affected bone is amputated, which is then replaced by some form of prosthesis. This may be necessary if there has been a long delay before the diagnosis of bone cancer. After amputation, the prosthesis will be regularly adjusted as the child grows and they can work very well. This may mean there are extra short stays in hospital, although some prostheses can be lengthened as an outpatient procedure. It should be possible for the child to join in with normal activities and even sports.
  • Limb-sparring surgery – if part of the limb can be saved then it will. There are two ways that limb-sparing surgery may be performed, either by replacing the bone with a prosthesis or replacing the affected bone with bone taken from another part of the body, known as a bone graft. After this type of surgery, children will usually be able to use their limbs almost normally. For more information about sport prostheses for children, have a look at our article here.

What can Boyes Turner do?

Our specialist clinical negligence team are committed to supporting individuals and their families who have been affected by negligent medical treatment for bone cancer and/or an amputation. We are experts in helping people who have suffered severe disability claim compensation, helping them secure high standard rehabilitation and prosthetic care, restore mobility and facilitate independence, which improves their quality of their life and that of those around them.

To find out if you are entitled to make an amputation compensation claim as a result of medical negligence, talk to us confidentially and without any commitment or cost – call us on our free phone number 0800 029 4799 or email us at [email protected]. Watch a video about how we have helped one of our previous clients here.

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought. This news story comes from publicly available sources. Where it concerns one or more of our clients this is clearly stated.

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