Osteosarcoma Diagnosis

A doctor can find out if you have osteosarcoma by asking about your symptoms and doing a physical examination. They will also do imaging tests. These include X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, and bone scans.

You may have limb-saving surgery, in which doctors remove the tumor without removing the arm or leg. Your doctor will use medicine (chemotherapy) before surgery to lower the chance that cancer cells will come back.


The most common symptom of osteosarcoma is bone pain that gets worse and lasts for weeks or longer. It may hurt when you move or touch the area. It may cause a lump or bump, which is often warm and red. It may also cause a limp or limited movement.

Sometimes osteosarcoma spreads before a diagnosis is made. It happens most often in the wide ends of long bones (femur and tibia in your leg and arm, humerus in your upper arm) but can be found in other flat bones, such as those that support and protect organs.

Our doctors use a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to treat osteosarcoma. Chemotherapy uses drugs to shrink the tumor and kill cancer cells. Your doctor may also give you a type of radiation called proton therapy to target the tumor and avoid nearby organs and healthy tissue.

Physical Examination

If you or your child has symptoms of a bone tumor, the health care provider will ask about your or your child’s medical history and do a physical exam. They will check the bones for unusual lumps or masses and for tenderness and swelling.

They may also order X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to find out the size of the tumor and whether it has spread. They may also order a blood test to measure the levels of certain chemicals that are higher in cancer patients than in healthy people.

Many osteosarcomas are treated with surgery and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors before surgery. If the cancer has spread, radiation therapy is used to kill any remaining cancer cells in the lungs and other bones.


X-rays can be used to find and diagnose bone tumors. They can also show cancer that has spread to bone from another part of the body.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can be used to look at the marrow inside bones and to check for cancer in soft tissues, such as muscles and blood vessels. They can also help find and measure the size of the tumor.

A biopsy is a procedure that takes a sample of the tumor for laboratory testing. The test results can help doctors decide what treatment is best. The doctor may use a needle biopsy or surgically remove the tumor to get a tissue sample. A pathologist will examine the tissue to make a diagnosis. The doctor will also look at the type of cells in the tumor to determine its grade.


A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan shows more detail about the tumor. It also helps doctors learn if the cancer has spread to other bones, or metastasized.

The doctor may perform a biopsy to remove small pieces of the tumor for further testing. This can be done with a needle or during surgery.

These tests show the type of cells in the tumor and how fast they grow. They can help doctors find out what grade the osteosarcoma is.

Most people with an osteosarcoma in a bone can be treated with limb-sparing surgery and chemotherapy. This can save the limb and improve survival and chances of a cure. Long-term follow-up is needed to watch for recurrence of the cancer or spread to other bones.


In a biopsy, doctors remove small amounts of tumor and normal tissue to study in the lab. This lets doctors see if the cells are cancerous and what kind of osteosarcoma it is.

Doctors also look at the size of the tumor and how fast it’s growing. They might also do a CT scan or an MRI to check for other areas of cancer in your bones or organs like the lungs.

Most people with osteosarcoma need surgery to take out the tumor and some surrounding tissue. They might also get chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These are used to kill any remaining cancer cells and prevent them from coming back.

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