What Is Osteogenic Sarcoma? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Sarah Lawson

Sarah has taught nursing courses and has a master's degree in nursing education.

Osteogenic sarcoma is a type of cancer that primarily affects adolescents. Learn more about osteogenic sarcoma, symptoms and treatment options, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

What is Osteogenic Sarcoma?

'Cancer' is an absolutely terrifying word. It is even more terrifying to a young person. It's possible it may be even more terrifying to their parents. Osteogenic sarcoma, then, is horrifying, as it is the most common type of bone cancer in young people.

Osteogenic sarcoma, or osteosarcoma, is a rare type of cancer that begins in the bones. It usually starts in the ends of bones where new bone tissue forms as adolescents grow. It can occur anywhere in the body, but the most common sites are the thigh, upper arm, and shin. It most often occurs during the rapid period of growth during adolescence.

There is a similar incidence of osteogenic sarcoma among boys and girls until late adolescence occurs. At that point, boys become more commonly affected. The average age at diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma is 15 years old. In the US, there are, on average, about 400 people under the age of 20 diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma each year.

The cause of this disease is unknown. It rarely runs in families. There has been a link to increased risk of osteogenic sarcoma with a defective tumor suppressor gene which allows tumors to grow in the body. This same gene is also linked to familial retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer of the eye. Children with familial retinoblastoma have a higher risk of developing osteosarcoma in adolescence. If the disease is localized and has not spread to other areas of the body, the survival rate is 70-75%. If the disease has spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs or other bones, the survival rate is about 30%.

Common sites of osteogenic sarcoma
Common sites of osteosarcoma

Stages of Osteogenic Sarcoma

Once a diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma has been made, additional testing will be required to determine if the cancer has spread. This is called staging and it a critical component necessary for accurate treatment. For osteogenic sarcoma, there are only two stages, or groups, that are used to describe the disease. Localized disease means the cancer is found in only one area of the body. Metastatic disease means the cancer has spread from one area of the body to another, far from the originating site. This is the case in only 10% to 20% of all osteogenic sarcomas. When osteogenic sarcoma spreads, it most often will spread to the lungs. It can spread to other sites, though, including to other bones.

Osteogenic sarcoma in the right tibia
Osteosarcoma in the right tibia


Symptoms of osteogenic sarcoma may appear weeks to months before the diagnosis is actually made. Often times, the first symptom is pain in the affected bone that may come and go, but eventually becomes more severe and constant. Tumors in the leg can cause limping, while tumors in the arm may cause pain with lifting. Other symptoms that may be present include:

  • Swelling over the tumor
  • Warmth and reddening
  • Decreased joint movement
  • Fracture caused by weakening of the bone tissue; this is called a pathological fracture


Treatment options for osteogenic sarcoma include surgery and chemotherapy. Surgery is used to remove the entire tumor. A small amount of normal tissue around the tumor will also be removed to ensure that no cancer is left behind. Previously, this surgery was almost always an amputation. Now, in patients whose cancer has not spread, up to 95% of patients may be able to have limb-saving surgery.

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