Enchondroma Causes and Symptoms

Enchondroma is a relatively common yet benign tumor consisting of a rest of cartilage inside the bone. An enchondroma commonly appears in the short tubular bones of the hands and feet. It can also be found in larger long bones, such as the humerus, femur, and tibia. The majority of patients have no symptoms or difficulties related to the tumor, so most are diagnosed as an incidental finding on imaging studies done for unrelated conditions. Because so many cases go undiagnosed, it is difficult to determine exactly how commonly enchondromas exist.

While an enchondroma is most commonly seen between the ages of 10 and 20, it is not unusual to see it in older or younger people as well. Both males and females are equally affected by this type of bone tumor. In less than 1% of all cases do these tumors transform into a malignant chondrosarcoma. Many cases go untreated and even undiagnosed because the tumor is so benign in nature. However, in the setting of any aggressive signs, surgical removal may be recommended. On occasion, an enchondroma may weaken the bone to a degree necessitating removal and fixation to prevent a fracture.

Types of Enchondroma

Enchondroma is benign by nature, but can develop in various states:

  • Solitary enchondroma – This is the most common form of enchondroma, and affects people at such a mild level that many times it goes undetected. As the name states, solitary enchondroma only affects a person in one instance. It is rare to find multiple instances at the same site.
  • Ollier’s disease – This is a form of enchondromatosis with a prevalence of about 1 out of every 100,000. This sporadic disorder results in multiple enchondromas forming throughout the skeleton. This is often accompanied by a disturbance in the growth of the long bones of the extremities. Nearly 30% of patients will develop a chondrosarcoma over their lifetime.
  • Maffucci's syndrome – Another form of enchondromatosis, where multiple enchondromas and multiple hemangiomas develop. This condition is closely related to Ollier’s disease, but carries a significantly greater risk of developing a chondrosarcoma.

Causes of Enchondroma

There are few known causes of enchondroma. While this disease is still being researched, there are a few findings that can give some insight into what causes enchondroma:

  • Overgrowth of cartilage – Many researchers believe that the sole cause of enchondroma lies in the genetic makeup of the person who has it. While this disease is not inherited, it is thought to be a malfunction of the genes for cartilage growth and development.

Symptoms of Enchondroma

While enchondroma patients see very few, if any, symptoms as the disease advances or worsens, there are some symptoms that do appear.

The following are some of the enchondroma symptoms. It is important to bear in mind that everyone’s body is different and will react differently depending on the level of the disease:

  • Deformed bones, particularly on hands or feet
  • Weakening of the bone structure

Enchondroma symptoms are often left unnoticed. In fact, many cases of enchondroma are first noticed after another unrelated trauma when a doctor sees it appear on the X-ray results.

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

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