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What is chondrosarcoma?

Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis.

Chondrosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that starts in cartilage cells. Cartilage is the specialized, smooth connective tissue that protects the ends of bones and lines most joints. It's the tissue from which most bones develop. Cartilage plays an important role in the growth process. There are many different types of cartilage all over the body. Chondrosarcoma mainly affects the cartilage cells of the thighbone (femur), arm, pelvis, or knee. Less often, other areas may be affected. These include the ribs, skull, and trachea (windpipe).

Chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of primary bone cancer in adults. A primary bone cancer is one that starts from bone cells. This is opposed to starting in another organ and then spreading to the bone.

What causes chondrosarcoma?

The exact cause of chondrosarcoma is not known. There may be a genetic change that make some people more likely to have this cancer. Chondrosarcomas can be caused by radiation therapy used to treat other cancers.

Who is at risk for chondrosarcoma?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change.

Chondrosarcoma is rare in people younger than age 20. Risk goes up with age until about age 75. It happens equally to males and females.

Most often, chondrosarcoma starts in normal cartilage cells. It may also stem from a noncancer (benign) bone or cartilage tumor. The following is a list of some benign conditions that may be present when chondrosarcoma happens:

  • Enchondromas. A type of benign bone tumor that starts in cartilage and often affects the hands. It (can also affect other areas). The cause is unknown.

  • Multiple exostoses (osteochondromas). This is an inherited syndrome that causes many osteochondromas. These are an overgrowth of cartilage and bone near the end of the growth plate of long bones in the arms or legs.

  • Ollier disease. A cluster of benign cartilage tumors (enchondromas) that often affect the hands and feet. This inherited disease can cause severe bone deformities.

  • Maffucci syndrome. A combination of many benign cartilage tumors (enchondromas) that usually affect the hands and feet and benign tumors made up of blood vessels (angiomas) are caused by this inherited syndrome.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for chondrosarcoma and what you can do about them.

What are the symptoms of chondrosarcoma?

Symptoms of chondrosarcoma may vary depending on the location of the tumor. The following are the most common symptoms of chondrosarcoma. But each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Large mass on the affected bone

  • Feeling of pressure around the mass

  • Pain that gets worse over time. It is often worse at night and may be eased by taking anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen. It is not usually relieved by rest.

  • Local swelling

  • Joint stiffness

Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.

How is chondrosarcoma diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about your health history and do a physical exam. You may also need tests, including:

  • Biopsy. Tissue samples are removed from the body (with a needle or during surgery. The samples are then checked under a microscope. This is done to find out if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

  • X-ray. This test uses a small dose of radiation to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • CT scan. This imaging test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.

  • MRI. This imaging test uses a combination of large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures in the body.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. For this imaging test, radioactive-tagged sugar (glucose) is injected into the bloodstream. Tissues that use the glucose more than normal tissues (such as cancer cells) can be detected by a scanning machine.

After a diagnosis of chondrosarcoma, you’ll likely need more tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can help show if the cancer has grown into nearby areas or spread to other parts of your body. The test results help your healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. A stage grouping is then assigned.

How is chondrosarcoma staged?

The stage of a cancer tells your doctor how much and how far it has spread in your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat it.

Stage groupings can have a value of 1 to 4. They are written as Roman numerals I, II, II, and IV. The higher the number, the more advanced the cancer is. Letters and numbers can be used after the Roman numeral to give more details.

Staging for chondrosarcoma also takes into account the grade of the cancer. This is a measure of how much the cancer cells look like normal cells. A scale of 1 to 3 is used. Grade 1 cancer cells look most like normal cells and tend to grow and spread slower than grade 3. Grade 3 cells look very different from normal cells. Grade 2 falls in between.

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about what your cancer stage means for your treatment. Ask any questions or talk about your concerns.

How is chondrosarcoma treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The goal for treatment of chondrosarcoma is to remove the mass and reduce the chance that it will return. Close follow-up with your healthcare provider may be needed. Treatment may include:

  • Surgery. Removal of the tumor. If the tumor is on an arm or leg, the surgeon will try to save the limb. In some cases, amputation might be needed.

  • Physical therapy. This treatment helps to regain strength and use of the affected area after surgery.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation might be given at high doses.

  • Chemotherapy. Although not the main treatment, it may be needed if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options. Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.

Key points about chondrosarcoma

  • Chondrosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that starts in cartilage cells. Cartilage is the smooth connective tissue that protects the ends of bones and lines most joints.

  • Chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of primary bone cancer in adults.

  • The exact cause is not known. There may be a genetic change that make some people more likely to have this cancer.

  • Symptoms can include a large mass on the affected bone, and pain that gets worse over time.

  • Treatment may include surgery, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or chemotherapy.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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