Osteosarcoma

A rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue.

Diagnosis

Family physicians and orthopedists rarely see a malignant bone tumor (most bone tumors are benign). The route to osteosarcoma diagnosis usually begins with an X-ray, continues with a combination of scans (CT scan, PET scan, bone scan, MRI) and ends with a surgical biopsy. A characteristic often seen in an X-ray is Codman's triangle, which is basically a subperiosteal lesion formed when the periosteum is raised due to the tumor. Films are suggestive, but bone biopsy is the only definitive method to determine whether a tumor is malignant or benign.

Most times, the early signs of osteosarcoma are caught on X-rays taken during routine dental check-ups. Osteosarcoma frequently develops in the mandible (lower jaw); accordingly, Dentist are trained to look for signs that may suggest osteosarcoma. Even though radiographic findings for this cancer vary greatly, one usually sees a symmetrical widening of the periodontal ligament space. If the dentist has reason to suspects osteosarcoma or another underlying disorder, he or she would refer the patient to a medical specialist. A biopsy of suspected osteosarcoma should be performed by a qualified orthopedic oncologist.

Treatment

A complete radical, surgical, en bloc resection of the cancer, is the treatment of choice in osteosarcoma. Although about 90% of patients are able to have limb-salvage surgery, complications, particularly infection, prosthetic loosening and non-union, or local tumor recurrence may cause the need for further surgery or amputation. Mifamurtide is used after a patient has had surgery to remove the tumor and together with chemotherapy to kill remaining cancer cells to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Also, the option to have rotationplasty after the tumor is taken out exists.

Patients with osteosarcoma are best managed by a medical oncologist and an orthopedic oncologist experienced in managing sarcomas. Current standard treatment is to use neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy given before surgery) followed by surgical resection. The percentage of tumor cell necrosis (cell death) seen in the tumor after surgery gives an idea of the prognosis and also lets the oncologist know if the chemotherapy regimen should be altered after surgery.

Standard therapy is a combination of limb-salvage orthopedic surgery when possible (or amputation in some cases) and a combination of high-dose methotrexate with leucovorin rescue, intra-arterial cisplatin, adriamycin, ifosfamide with mesna, BCD (bleomycin, cyclophosphamide, dactinomycin), etoposide, and muramyl tripeptide. Rotationplasty may be used. Ifosfamide can be used as an adjuvant treatment if the necrosis rate is low.