What is Chondrosarcoma? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that affects the cartilage around the bones. Read this lesson to learn what the symptoms and treatment options are.

What is Chondrosarcoma?

Chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that first forms in cartilage around the bone and then affects the bone itself. All bones in the body are susceptible to this type of cancer, but it most commonly affects the hips and thigh bones in adults over 40 years. The cancer may present as malignant (harmful) or benign (not harmful) tumors. When malignant tumors develop, the lesions consist of malfunctioning cartilage-producing cells.

Unfortunately, it is one of the most difficult types of bone cancer to identify and treat. There are many categories of chondrosarcomas that are classified on their location, their cause (whether or not there is an underlying condition causing the cancer), and histologic grade (which is a three-tiered rating of severity of the tumor or lesion).

An image of what chondrosarcoma looks like - the reddened area shows the location of the lesion.

Symptoms of Chondrosarcoma

In many cases, benign tumors are asymptomatic, meaning they cause no symptoms in the patient. These may be discovered accidentally during other types of screening procedures. If the patient feels any pain, it is usually in the surrounding tissues and not in the affected bone itself. Benign tumors are mostly commonly diagnosed in females ranging in age from 40 to 90.

Despite the fact that cases of malignant tumors often cause pain, the cancer itself can be difficult to diagnose. Areas of the body most commonly affected by this type of bone cancer include the pelvis, hips, ribs, femur, humerus, tibia, and scapula. Men older than 40 are most likely to develop malignant chondrosarcoma. Symptoms include chronic pain that gradually increases over time. Usually, chondrosarcoma patients develop insomnia due to the pain level interfering with sleep.

The location of pain depends on the area affected. For instance, if the chondrosarcoma is located in the hips or pelvic area, the patient will probably feel pain in his/her knees or hips, but symptoms may not begin until the tumor has grown quite large. Eventually, the patient may develop weakened limbs that eventually cease to work properly.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Usually, the tumor or affected area is first diagnosed using X-ray technology. Blood work and other laboratory tests will likely be conducted. Once the general location of a tumor or lesion has been determined, additional imaging methods, such bone scans, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), or CT (computed tomography), may be used to gather more information about the cancer's histologic grade.

Biopsies are sometimes used on malignant tumors, but there are disagreements over how necessary they are for this type of cancer. Chondrosarcoma is a heterogeneous type of cancer, meaning that the cells that make up a lesion or tumor are not uniform and vary in grade. When a biospy is performed, there can be no guarantee that the cancer cells extracted are representative of the most severe part of the tumor. In other words, lower-grade cells could be biopsied despite the tumor containing higher-grade cells in another part of the tumor. A biospy in such a case could lead to a mis-classification of the lesion as a whole. Biospies are often only used to confirm information already diagnosed using imaging technologies.

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