Causes and Risk Factors of Chondrosarcoma

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

As with many cancers, the cause of chondrosarcoma is not clear. However, people with certain genetic conditions have an increased risk of developing chondrosarcoma. These conditions include hereditary multiple osteochondromas, Ollier disease, Maffucci syndrome, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

In this article, the causes and risk factors for chondrosarcoma will be explored.

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Common Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in your control.

Age and gender: 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.

Location: Chondrosarcoma can occur in any bone, but there is a tendency for development in the hipbone and thighbone. Chondrosarcoma may arise in other flat bones, such as the shoulder, ribs, and skull.

Benign tumors: Sometimes chondrosarcoma grows on an otherwise healthy bone, and sometimes it grows on a benign bone tumor called an enchondroma. An enchondroma is a benign cartilage tumor that grows into the bone.

Radiation exposure: Therapeutic radiation (such as radiation therapy for childhood cancer) is associated with minimal risk of developing radiation-induced sarcoma. The average time between radiation therapy for cancer and the subsequent development of secondary cancer is usually 10–15 years.


In the majority of cases, chondrosarcoma isn't hereditary, in that it is unlikely to be passed down from parent to child. Most cases of bone cancer are the result of DNA mutations that happen by chance. 

There are some conditions that may increase the risk of developing chondrosarcoma.

Hereditary Multiple Osteochondromas

This is a syndrome passed in families (inherited). It causes many osteochondromas. These are overgrowths of cartilage and bone near the end of the growth plate of long bones in the arms or legs.

Osteochondromas are typically benign (noncancerous); however, in some instances, these tumors become malignant (cancerous). Researchers estimate that people with hereditary multiple osteochondromas have a 1 in 20 to 1 in 200 lifetime risk of developing cancerous chondrosarcoma.

Ollier Disease

Ollier disease is a rare skeletal disorder characterized by abnormal bone development. While this disorder may be present at birth, it may not become apparent until early childhood when symptoms such as deformities or improper limb growth are more obvious.

Ollier disease causes clusters of enchondromas that often affect the hands and feet. It can cause severe bone deformities.

Although the enchondromas associated with Ollier disease start out as benign, they may become cancerous. About 30% of people with Ollier disease develop chondrosarcoma. People with Ollier disease also have an increased risk of other cancers, such as ovarian cancer or liver cancer.

Maffucci Syndrome

Maffucci syndrome primarily affects the bones and skin. It is characterized by multiple enchondromas that usually affect the hands and feet. It is distinguished from Ollier disease by red or purplish growths in the skin consisting of tangles of abnormal blood vessels (hemangiomas). Maffucci syndrome increases the risk for chondrosarcoma and other kinds of cancer.

Maffucci syndrome is very rare. In fact, since the condition was first described in 1881, less than 200 cases have been reported.

Li-Fraumeni Syndrome

Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a rare inherited syndrome that can lead to the development of a number of cancers, including sarcomas (i.e., chondrosarcoma and osteosarcoma), leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer. These cancers often develop when people are relatively young.

People with Li-Fraumeni also can develop more than one cancer in their lifetime. They also seem to have a higher risk of getting cancer from radiation therapy, so doctors treating these patients might avoid giving them radiation when possible.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Lifestyle-related risk factors such as body weight, physical activity, diet, and tobacco use play a major role in many cancers. But so far, preventable lifestyle factors have not been linked to chondrosarcoma.

Early detection offers the best chance for successful treatment, so people with known risk factors are encouraged to regularly visit their healthcare provider and discuss their risk for developing chondrosarcoma.

If you have one of the genetic conditions mentioned above, talk with your healthcare team for more information about your risk of cancer.


The cause of chondrosarcoma, like many cancers, is unclear. Researchers do know that some genetic conditions such as hereditary multiple osteochondromas, Ollier disease, Maffucci syndrome, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome increase the risk of developing this rare cancer.

A Word From Verywell

There are no obvious preventable risk factors or causes of chondrosarcoma. If you do happen to have a genetic disorder that puts you at an increased risk of developing this cancer, make sure you have regular checkups with your healthcare provider.

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