Childhood osteosarcoma is a form of malignant bone cancer and the 6th most common form of cancer in children under the age of 15. The disease affects over 500 adults and 400 children every year, with a two-thirds survival rate.
Causes of Osteosarcoma
Unfortunately, the causes behind osteosarcoma are not known. Theories exist about environmental triggers such as fluoride in drinking water or exposure to radium.
Symptoms Associated with Osteosarcoma
Typically, the most common side effect associated with osteosarcoma is pain, often emanating from the tumor location. Larger tumors, particularly those on the knees, can appear as swelling. In addition, because the affected bone is usually weaker, it’s more susceptible to breaking.
Over 50% of all cases of childhood osteosarcoma occur around the knee area.
The risk for developing osteosarcoma peaks during the adolescent growth period. Some researchers think that there may be a correlation between rapid bone growth development and a child’s risk for developing the cancer.
Gender of the Patient
Osteosarcoma typically occurs in males and is seen twice as frequently as in young women.
Exposure to Radiation
If a patient has been subjected to radiation treatment for other cancers or conditions, they will have a higher risk of contracting the disease.
Additional Bone Diseases
Patients who have suffered from other bone diseases, like Paget’s disease of the bone, have an increased risk of being diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Typically though, this occurs in adults and is rare with children.
Childhood osteosarcoma is often more prevalent in children with certain rare cancer syndromes that are inherited – such as retinoblastoma or Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
Types of Osteosarcoma
There are three sub-types of osteosarcoma that can be recognized by how they appear on X-rays and under a microscope. Some of these sub-types have a better prognosis than others.
The three sub-types of osteosarcoma are high-grade, intermediate and low grade. High-grade is a conventional development of the disease characterized by small cell formation. Intermediate grade is periosteal, meaning the membrane around the bones is affected. Low grade is also periosteal, but also includes low grade intrasseous.
How Osteosarcoma is Treated
Osteosarcoma is occasionally treated with surgery – at which point the afflicted limb or a portion of the afflicted limb is amputated. Usually, the patient or parents of the patient choose to use the same surgeon for both the biopsy and the therapeutic surgery.
Patients or the parents of patients should consult with their surgeon about the best method and how best to remove the cancer while saving as much use of the affected arm or leg as possible.
Despite the prevalence of surgery, most cases of childhood osteosarcoma are treated with chemotherapy in conjunction with surgery. There are a variety of drugs used in osteosarcoma chemotherapy programs, with each dose determined by the individual patient and disease.
A child suffering from this affliction – and the parents of this child -have very difficult decisions to make when presented with options of chemotherapy and surgery. Those facing the prospect of an amputation should definitely seek a second medical opinion before moving forward.