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Bone Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment Principles

Journal title
American family physician
Publication year
Ferguson, J. L.; Turner, S. P.

Primary bone cancers include osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and chondrosarcoma. They account for less than 1% of diagnosed cancers each year and are associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Timely diagnosis is challenging because of late patient presentation, nonspecific symptoms that mimic common musculoskeletal injuries, and low suspicion by physicians. Plain radiography is the preferred diagnostic test. Radiographic suspicion of a bone malignancy should prompt quick referral to a cancer center for multidisciplinary care. Osteosarcoma, the most common bone cancer, most often occurs in children and adolescents. It typically develops in the metaphysis of long bones, specifically the distal femur, proximal tibia, and proximal humerus. Metastasis to the lungs is common. Use of neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapy, in combination with surgery, has improved survival rates to nearly 80% for patients with localized disease, and 90% to 95% of patients do not require limb amputation. Ewing sarcoma is the second most common bone cancer and is similar to osteosarcoma in terms of presenting symptoms, age at occurrence, and treatment. Prognosis for osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma depends on the presence of metastasis, which lowers the five-year survival rate to 20% to 30%. Chondrosarcoma is the rarest bone cancer, primarily affecting adults older than 40 years. Survival rates are higher because most of these tumors are low-grade lesions.

Research abstracts