Chondrosarcoma is a cancer that starts in the bone. It is found in the cartilage, which is the rubbery tissue that covers the end or the surface of bones. This type of cancer is usually slow growing and is found in the pelvis, upper arms and legs, and shoulder.
What Causes Chondrosarcoma?
The exact cause of chondrosarcoma is unknown. However there are some rare conditions that have a small risk of developing chondrosarcoma.
What are the Symptoms?
- Pain is the most common symptom of chondrosarcoma. This depends on where the cancer is located.
- There may be some swelling over the site, or it may be sore to touch.
- Sometimes because the bone is weakened from the cancer, it can break easily. This is sometimes how people find out about their cancer.
Remember: The symptoms described could be related to many things. However if you have ongoing bone pain, especially at night, then you should get checked by your doctor.
How is it diagnosed?
After visiting a GP a referral will probably be made to a hospital for some tests. These may include:
- Bone scan
- Blood test
- Bone marrow aspirate
- CT scan
If the results of the tests show chondrosarcoma, another referral will be made to a doctor who specialises in the treatment of bones (called an orthopaedic doctor).
Some of the tests they undergo will be done by a specialist bone surgeon.
Once the cancer is diagnosed, it will be graded. This means that cells will be looked at under a microscope and the rate in which they grow will be determined.
- Cells that look mostly normal (and are slow-growing) are given a lower grade than cells that look abnormal (and are fast-growing).
- Chondrosarcomas are graded from 1-3. Grade 1 is the slowest growing, and grade 3 is the fastest growing. Grade 3 sarcomas can spread to other parts of the body.
Chondrosarcomas are staged according to their size and whether they have spread from their primary location. Staging is used to help doctors organise treatment:
- Stage 1A: Low-grade and is contained within the bone.
- Stage 1B: Low-grade cancer found outside the bone. No metastasis.
- Stage 2A: High-grade and is contained within the hard coating of the bone. No metastasis.
- Stage 2B: High-grade cancer extending outside the bone and into the soft tissue spaces. No metastasis.
- Stage 3: The cancer can be low-grade or high-grade and it is found either within the bone or outside it. The cancer has metastasised and spread to other parts of the body.
How is it treated?
A team of doctors and other staff at the hospital will plan the treatment. It will depend on the grading and staging of the tumour.
Surgery is the primary treatment for chondrosarcoma. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are less effective treatments for chondrosarcoma.
An orthopaedic surgeon will perform the surgery. They will work out if chemotherapy or radiotherapy is required in consultation with an oncologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with chemotherapy) and/or radiologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with radiation).
Surgery for Chondrosarcoma
The aim of surgery is to remove the tumour. Because of the type of tumour (being in the bone) it can often be difficult to remove. Sometimes some of the bone will be removed, and either a prosthesis (a metal replacement bone), or a bone graft (bone taken from another part of the body) will be inserted. This is known as limb-sparing surgery.
Unfortunately because of the location of the tumour, sometimes limb-sparing surgery doesn’t work and a limb might have to be amputated. It only ever happens if it is completely unavoidable. This is because the cancer has spread from the bone and into the nearby blood vessels.
For more information, go to our surgery fact sheet.