Signs and Symptoms of Osteosarcoma

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Osteosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the bones. This condition most commonly occurs in teenagers and young adults, especially during periods of rapid growth. The average age of diagnosis is 15 years old, but older adults can get it too.

While there’s no widely recommended screening for osteosarcoma, this cancer can usually be detected early. The earlier osteosarcoma is detected and treated, the better the chances of survival, so it’s important to pay close attention to symptoms like bone pain or swelling near the joints and see a doctor if they persist.

In this article, you’ll learn more about common symptoms of osteosarcoma, potential complications, and when to see a doctor.

Doctor looking at bone imaging

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Frequent Symptoms

Bone pain at the site of the tumor (often occurring around the knee or in the upper arm) is the most common symptom of osteosarcoma. The pain may increase in the evening or after physical activity, and eventually, the pain may result in a limp.

Other common symptoms of osteosarcoma include:

  • Swelling or tenderness at the site of the tumor
  • A lump or mass that can be felt through the skin and may be warm to touch
  • Unexplained fever
  • Increased pain when lifting things, if the tumor is in the arm
  • Painful or limited movement, if the tumor is near a joint
  • Limping, if the tumor affects the leg
  • Easily broken bones

It’s important to note that bone pain and swelling are typical in healthy children and young adults, so these symptoms can easily be ignored or brushed off. If you or a loved one has these symptoms and they persist for more than a few weeks, be sure to see a doctor so a diagnosis can be made and treatment can be started if necessary.

Complications

A number of complications may occur with osteosarcoma. Some of these may be a result of treatment interventions, such as side effects from chemotherapy or if the size or location of the tumor requires amputation. Others may occur due to the spread of the tumor.

Potential complications include:

  • Excessive bleeding or infection at the site of surgery
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Poor bone growth
  • Heart, lung, or kidney problems
  • Recurrence of the cancer
  • Possibility of the growth of other cancers
  • Fertility complications

When to See a Doctor 

Some symptoms of osteosarcoma, like bone pain or swelling, may overlap with the normal bumps and bruises that are common in active children and teens. These symptoms may not prompt an immediate doctor’s visit, but if they persist for more than a few weeks, or if the symptoms worsen, make an appointment to see your doctor. They will do a thorough physical exam and recommend any test needed.

The earlier you get a diagnosis, the earlier your doctor can begin treatment and put you or your child on track for the best possible prognosis.

 A Word From Verywell

If you’re worried that you or your child may have osteosarcoma, keep an eye out for the symptoms described above. These symptoms are most likely to be caused by normal adolescent growth spurts, illness, or injury, but if they persist or worsen, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor to do a full checkup. Learning the cause of the symptoms should help bring you some peace of mind.

If you or your child is diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the news can be overwhelming and frightening. Fortunately, osteosarcoma is often treatable, especially when caught early. Still, you’ll need a strong support system around you, so reach out to friends and family, and tap into a network of other osteosarcoma survivors.

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2 Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Osteosarcoma. Updated February 24, 2021.  

  2. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma. Updated October 8, 2020.