Bone Tumor, Causes and Symptoms

Bone tumors consist of a mass formed within a bone or on the surface of a bone. These masses can be either benign or cancerous, depending upon how the tumor is formed and what it consists of. A bone tumor is found most often on the femur or tibia. The femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone) are important in helping the body perform necessary functions, such as jumping and walking. Since these bones often are responsible for bearing the weight of our body and in performing important actions, many bone tumors require treatment or close observation.

Overall, bone tumors are quite common, and most are the result of benign conditions.  Many bone tumors are related to disease processes in other parts of the body.  Malignant (cancerous) tumors that originate in the bone, however, are relatively rare.  Each year, approximately 2,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for a primary malignant bone tumor. The majority of those treated are children. In fact, bone sarcomas account for around 2% of all cancer cases in children. Adolescents and young adults may be more susceptible to formation of a bone tumor due to changes related to the rapid growth during the adolescent growth spurt. When certain tumors are left untreated, they can spread, causing significant pain and possible fracture, as well as the possible need for limb amputation or death.

Anatomy of the Bone

The 206 bones in the adult human body are there to shape the body and provide stability. Each bone consists of the following:

  • Cartilage at the end of each bone to protect the subchondral tissues and provide a smooth gliding surface for joint movement
  • Periosteum, which is a layer of tissue that surrounds the bone, supporting bone growth, healing, and remodeling
  • Compact and cancellous bone, which make up the outer and inner portion of the shaft of the bone, and provide the primary supply of calcium in the body
  • Tunnels through the bone filled with blood vessels, along which nutrients are delivered and stored
  • Bone marrow, which is a major source of blood cells

Muscles attach themselves to the bones to help provide strength and stability as a person moves. Bones are also used to protect the vital organs in the human body. Inside each bone is marrow, which helps the body produce new blood cells that are vital to good health and survival.

Types of Bone Tumors

Bone tumors come in a variety of forms, and most require some sort of treatment:

  • Aneurysmal bone cyst (ABC) – An ABC forms as a benign bone tumor consisting of a cyst filled with bloodAneurysmal bone cysts may occur on their own, or may be a response to another tumor in the same location.
  • Chondroblastoma – This type of benign, yet aggressive bone tumor bears some resemblance to cartilage, and most commonly occurs near the ends of bones in children..
  • Chondromyxoid fibroma – This rare type of benign, but potentially aggressive bone tumor . These tumors are most commonly found in children and young adults.
  • Giant cell tumor – A bone tumor that acts aggressively within bone. It is named for the giant cells that comprise one of the cell populations seen under the microscope.  . 
  • Osteoblastoma – This type of benign tumor is unique in that it actually creates bone, usually in children and young adults. This is most often seen along the spine or in long bones..
  • Osteoid osteoma – This is a smaller benign bone tumor that is closely related to osteoblastoma. It is often intensely painful, and usually produces a wall of bone formation around the tumor as a local reaction.

Causes of Bone Tumors

The cause of most bone tumors is still unclear. Because they typically occur in longer bones, which are sites for rapid growth, some researchers have assumed the following as possible causes:

  • Genetic alterations  – Bone tumors are found most often in the growing bodies of children, which has led researchers to believe that they are formed out of the changes related to rapid growth. Some genetic alterations have been closely linked to certain bone tumors.
  • Trauma – Similarly, significant trauma to the bone can cause it to heal incorrectly. This incorrect healing can occasionally lead to chronic irritation, which may ultimately result in the formation of bone tumors.
  • Radiation – When children or young adults go through radiation for treatment of some forms of cancer, the cells within bones may develop genetic alterations that can lead to tumors on the bones. 

Symptoms of Bone Tumors

Depending on the severity of the bone tumor and the type, the symptoms can vary. Many patients with a bone tumor will have pain, tenderness, or swelling in and around the bone in question. 

The following are bone tumor symptoms. Because every person reacts differently to these tumors, it is important to note that you do not have to have all symptoms to have a bone tumor:

  • Unexplained bone fractures
  • Pain and swelling at the site
  • Pain with activity
  • Tenderness over the affected area
  • More intense pain at night
  • Fatigue

Bone tumor symptoms are similar to symptoms found with other diseases or traumas. It is important to seek the guidance of a trained professional and have tests done immediately to determine if your symptoms are a result of a bone tumor.  

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's musculoskeletal oncology services in New York treats Bone Tumors as well as a broad range of conditions that affect the bones within the body.

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