What Is Chondrosarcoma?

What Is Chondrosarcoma? Image

Chondrosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that starts in cartilage cells. This cancer usually affects cartilage in the thigh bone, arm, pelvis, or knee. Chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that occurs within the cells of cartilage. Cartilage is the smooth connective tissue that protects the ends of bones and lines most joints. This cancer usually affects the cartilage in the thigh bone (femur),

Chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that occurs within the cells of cartilage. Cartilage is the smooth connective tissue that protects the ends of bones and lines most joints. This cancer usually affects the cartilage in the thigh bone (femur), arm, pelvis, or knee.

Chondrosarcoma is the second most common type of primary bone cancer, after osteosarcoma. It accounts for around 30% of all bone tumors. However, bone cancers are rare, making up just 1% of all kinds of cancer. The risk for developing this cancer increases as you get older.

In this article, the symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment of chondrosarcoma will be explored.


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Chondrosarcoma Symptoms

Pain is the most common symptom of chondrosarcoma. But symptoms may vary, depending on where the cancer is.

Symptoms may include:

  • A mass on the affected area
  • A feeling of pressure around the mass
  • Pain that gets worse over time
  • Weakness and limited movement in a limb or joint
  • Local swelling
  • Joint stiffness

It's important to note that some of these symptoms may be caused by benign (noncancerous) conditions like arthritis. Speak to your healthcare provider if you are worried about pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints.

Causes

Chondrosarcoma is a tumor of adulthood and older age. Most patients are older than 50 years of age at diagnosis, with a slight male predominance.

In most cases, chondrosarcoma happens from normal cartilage cells. It may also stem from a preexisting benign (noncancerous) bone or cartilage tumor. There are some benign conditions that may be present when chondrosarcoma happens:

  • Enchondromas: This is a type of noncancerous bone tumor that begins from cartilage and often affects the hands but can also affect other areas.
  • Multiple hereditary exostoses (MHE): This syndrome is inherited (passed down through families). It causes many osteochondromas, which are overgrowths of cartilage and bone near the end of the growth plate of long bones in the arms or legs. These bone defects can develop into chondrosarcoma.
  • Ollier disease: This is a cluster of benign cartilage tumors that often affects the hands.
  • Maffucci syndrome: This is a combination of multiple enchondromas and benign tumors made up of blood vessels.

Diagnosis

If your symptoms suggest the presence of chondrosarcoma, your healthcare provider will take a full health history, give you a physical exam, and order blood tests. You may also need some diagnostic tests for chondrosarcoma. These can include:

  • X-ray: Small doses of radiation are used to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs. This is often the first test done. It can show bone changes and help the provider decide if more detailed imaging scans are needed.
  • Computed tomography (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.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An imaging test that uses a combination of large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • Bone scan. A bone scan is a nuclear imaging technique in which a small amount of radioactive material is injected into your vein to highlight areas of bone damage or disease. This test is useful because it can show the entire skeleton at once.
  • Positron-emission tomography (PET) scan: An imaging test in which radioactive-tagged sugar (glucose) is injected into the blood. Tissues that use the glucose more than normal tissues (such as tumors) can be found by a scanning machine.
  • Biopsy: The biopsy involves the removal of a small amount of bone tissue to be examined under a microscope. It usually takes less than an hour and can be done as an outpatient surgical procedure.

Cancer Grading

The results of your tests give your cancer specialist information about the grade of the cancer, which is how the cancer cells look under the microscope. This indicates how quickly the cancer may grow, develop, and spread.

  • Low grade means the cancer cells look like normal bone cells. They are usually slow-growing cells that are less likely to spread. Most chondrosarcomas are low grade.
  • High grade means the cancer cells look highly abnormal. The cells are likely to grow more quickly and are more likely to spread.
  • Higher-grade chondrosarcomas are more likely to come back and may spread to other parts of the body.

Chondrosarcomas are graded from 1 to 3. Grade 1 is low-grade cancer and grade 3 is the highest grade of cancer. Knowing the grade helps clinicians decide on the best treatment plan for your cancer.

Treatment

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

The goal for the treatment of chondrosarcoma is to remove the mass and reduce the likelihood that it will come back. Treatment may include:

  • Surgery: Your doctor removes the tumor, along with some of the nearby healthy tissue to make sure to get all the cancer out. If the cancer is near a joint, like a hip or knee, you may need to get it replaced. If the tumor is on an arm or leg, the surgeon will try to save the limb. In some cases, amputation might be needed. 
  • Radiation therapy: For tumors that are harder to remove completely, radiation therapy might be given before or after surgery,or both. Radiation can also be used if surgery is not possible for some reason. Chondrosarcoma cells aren’t killed easily by radiation, so high doses are needed.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is not usually very effective against chondrosarcoma cells, so it’s not often used to treat this type of cancer. But it may be needed if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Chondrosarcomas that have spread to other parts of the body can be hard to treat. If there are many tumors, or if it’s clear that not all of them can be removed, treatment is more likely to be focused on relieving symptoms from the tumors and controlling their growth for as long as possible. 

Prognosis

The prognosis for people with chondrosarcoma depends on a number of factors, including the type of cancer, the location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread (metastasized), the person’s age and overall health, and how well the cancer responds to treatment.

The five-year survival rate for chondrosarcoma is 78%, which is much higher than that of some other types of bone cancer. If the cancer is localized (contained in one area), with successful treatment the survival rate is as high as 91%.

Summary

Chondrosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that occurs within the cells of cartilage. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness, which are also symptoms of less-serious conditions like arthritis. When the cancer is caught early, surgery can offer a good prognosis.

A Word From Verywell

Joint pain and swelling can affect all of us as we age. If you are worried about pain that increases over time and stiffness that impacts your ability to move, make an appointment with your healthcare provider for an examination. A doctor will be able to determine if the cause of your discomfort is due to aging, arthritis, or something more serious like chondrosarcoma. Chondrosarcoma is rare, and it's likely that there's a non-life-threatening reason for your symptoms.

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