Orthopedic Oncology

Also known as musculoskeletal oncology, this specialty treats patients who’ve been diagnosed with tumors of the bone or soft tissue.

Cancers of the Musculoskeletal System

Orthopedic oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of bone and soft tissue tumors known as sarcomas. A rare form of cancer, bone cancer can originate in any bone in the body, but typically develops in the pelvis or longer bones of the arms and legs. Not all bone tumors are cancerous, but the primary characteristic of bone cancer is a malignant tumor.

There are three major types of bone cancer: 

Osteosarcoma. The most common form of bone cancer, osteosarcoma is a tumor that occurs most often in children and adolescents and is characterized by cancerous cells that produce bone. It typically occurs in the bones of the leg or arm.

Chondrosarcoma. The second most common type, this bone tumor most frequently occurs in the pelvis, legs, or arms of adults and is characterized by cancerous cells that produce cartilage. 

Ewing sarcoma. Appearing most commonly in children and younger adults, this type of tumor occurs in the bones or soft tissues of the pelvis, legs, or arms. 

Knowing the Signs

The symptoms of malignant bone tumors can often be difficult to recognize in their early stages, and symptoms become more noticeable as the sarcoma progresses. The most common symptoms are chronic pain in one location, swelling or tenderness, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, or a noticeable mass that is growing. 

For most instances of bone cancer, the cause remains unknown. Bone cancer is very rarely inherited, and few environmental risk factors have been established. Exposure to radiation in the past, such as radiation therapy for another cancer, can increase the risk of sarcoma, and Paget’s disease, which is more common in older adults, can potentially increase the risk of bone cancer developing later on. 

Orthopedic Oncological Treatment Plans

Treatment plans for malignant bone tumors are developed by a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two are often employed, and orthopedic oncologists might also perform surgery for complete removal of a sarcoma. Treatment plans are usually developed in consideration of the size and speed of advancement of the tumor, as well as whether or not metastasis has occurred. 

x-ray showing a cancerous tumor in the bone of a person's shoulder

An Expert Weighs In

“Orthopedic oncology is a specialized field that combines orthopedic surgery with oncologic surgery and focuses on the treatment of bone and soft tissue sarcoma, benign tumors, and metastatic bone disease. The technology and research is rapidly advancing as our musculoskeletal tumor society strives for improved prognoses and elevated function with a focus on limb salvage. The diagnosis of musculoskeletal tumors is difficult and requires a whole patient approach with a strong multidisciplinary team of cancer providers and pathologists. Our orthopedic oncology team at Erlanger is dedicated to providing the highest level of musculoskeletal cancer care.”

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