Article: Osteosarcoma/Bone Fibrous Histiocytoma Treatment


What is osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the bone. It is the most common type of bone cancer. In children, it occurs most commonly in the bones around the knee. Osteosarcoma most often occurs in adolescents and young adults.

Malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone (MFH) is a rare tumor of the bone. It may occur following radiation treatments. MFH is generally treated the same as osteosarcoma and appears to have a similar response to treatment.

Ewing's sarcoma is another kind of bone cancer, but the cancer cells look different under a microscope than osteosarcoma cancer cells. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Ewing's Family of Tumors Treatment for more information.)

If a patient has symptoms (such as pain and swelling of a bone or a bone region), a doctor may order x-rays and blood tests. If it is suspected that the problem is osteosarcoma, your doctor may recommend seeing a specialist called an orthopedic oncologist. The orthopedic oncologist may cut out a piece of tissue from the affected area. This is called a biopsy. The tissue will be looked at under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. This test may be done in the hospital.

The chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the size, location, type, and stage of the cancer (how far the cancer has spread), how long the patient had symptoms, how much of the cancer is taken out by surgery and/or killed by chemotherapy, and the patient's age, blood and other test results, and general health.

Stage Explanation

Stages of osteosarcoma

Once osteosarcoma has been found, more tests may be done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This is called staging. At present, there is no staging system for osteosarcoma. Instead, most patients are grouped depending on whether cancer is found in only one part of the body (localized disease) or whether the cancer has spread from one part of the body to another (metastatic disease). Your doctor needs to know where the cancer is located and how far the disease has spread to plan treatment. The following groups are used for osteosarcoma:

Localized osteosarcoma

The cancer cells have not spread beyond the bone or nearby tissue in which the cancer began. In young patients, most tumors occur around the knee.

Metastatic osteosarcoma

The cancer cells have spread from the bone in which the cancer began to other parts of the body. The cancer most often spreads to the lungs. It may also spread to other bones.


Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after it has been treated. It may come back in the tissues where it first started or it may come back in another part of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

How osteosarcoma is treated

If it is suspected that the problem is osteosarcoma, before the first biopsy, your doctor may recommend a specialist called an orthopedic oncologist.

There are treatments for all patients with osteosarcoma. Three kinds of treatment are used:

  • Surgery (taking out the cancer in an operation).

  • Chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells).

  • Radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays to kill cancer cells).

Surgery is a common treatment for osteosarcoma. The doctor may remove the cancer and some of the healthy tissue around the cancer. Sometimes all or part of an arm or leg may have to be removed (amputated) to make sure that all of the cancer is taken out. If cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the lymph nodes will be removed (lymph node dissection).

In patients with osteosarcoma that has not spread beyond the bone, researchers are studying whether surgery without amputation of the arm or leg (limb-sparing procedures) can be done without the cancer coming back. Sometimes the cancer can be taken out without amputation, and artificial devices or bones from other places in the body can be used to replace the bone that was removed.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill or put into the body by a needle in a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called systemic treatment because the drug enters the blood stream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy with more than one drug is called combination chemotherapy.

Sometimes chemotherapy is injected directly into the area where the cancer is found (regional chemotherapy). In osteosarcoma, surgery is often used to remove the local tumor and chemotherapy is then given to kill any cancer cells that remain in the body. Chemotherapy given after surgery has removed the cancer is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can also be given before surgery to shrink the cancer so that it can be removed during surgery; this is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation for osteosarcoma usually comes from a machine outside the body (external radiation therapy).

Treatment for osteosarcoma depends on the stage of the disease, where the cancer is found, and the patient's age and general health.

A patient may receive treatment that is considered standard based on its effectiveness in a number of patients in past studies, or may choose to go into a clinical trial. Not all patients are cured with standard therapy, and some standard treatments may have more side effects than are desired. For these reasons, clinical trials are designed to find better ways to treat cancer patients and are based on the most up-to-date information. Clinical trials for osteosarcoma are ongoing in many parts of the country. If you want more information, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

Localized Osteosarcoma/Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma of Bone

Treatment of osteosarcoma may be the following:

  • Chemotherapy followed by surgery followed by adjuvant chemotherapy.

  • Clinical trials are evaluating new methods of giving chemotherapy and new schedules of treatment. The use of radiation therapy is also under study.

Treatment of malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone may be the following:

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by wide local excision of the tumor.

Metastatic/Unresectable Disease

Metastatic disease is cancer that has spread from the place in which it started to other parts of the body. Unresectable disease is cancer that cannot be removed with surgery.


Treatment may be one of the following:

  • Chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the cancer followed by adjuvant chemotherapy.

  • Surgery to remove the cancer followed by adjuvant chemotherapy.

Surgery often includes removal of cancer that has spread to the lungs.

Malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone

The standard treatments for patients with unresectable or metastatic malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone have not yet been determined.

Recurrent Osteosarcoma

Treatment depends on where the cancer recurred, what kind of treatment was given before, as well as other factors. A clinical trial may be a reasonable treatment option.

If the cancer has come back only in the lungs, treatment may be surgery to remove the cancer in the lungs with or without chemotherapy. If the cancer has come back in other places besides the lungs, treatment may be combination chemotherapy. Clinical trials are evaluating new chemotherapy drugs.

Changes to This Summary (01/21/2004)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.

To Learn More


For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deaf and hard-of-hearing callers with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615. The call is free and a trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Web sites and Organizations

The NCI's Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. There are also many other places where people can get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Local hospitals may have information on local and regional agencies that offer information about finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems associated with cancer treatment.


The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.


The NCI's LiveHelp service, a program available on several of the Institute's Web sites, provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.


For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:

NCI Public Inquiries Office
Suite 3036A
6116 Executive Boulevard, MSC8322
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322

About PDQ

PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at, the NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.

PDQ contains cancer information summaries.

The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.

The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.

Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.

PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.

In the United States, about two-thirds of children with cancer are treated in a clinical trial at some point in their illness. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about new treatments, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard."

Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. For additional help in locating a childhood cancer clinical trial, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

The PDQ database contains listings of groups specializing in clinical trials.

The Children's Oncology Group (COG) is the major group that organizes clinical trials for childhood cancers in the United States. Information about contacting COG is available on or from the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

The PDQ database contains listings of cancer health professionals and hospitals with cancer programs.

Because cancer in children and adolescents is rare, the majority of children with cancer are treated by health professionals specializing in childhood cancers, at hospitals or cancer centers with special facilities to treat them. The PDQ database contains listings of health professionals who specialize in childhood cancer and listings of hospitals with cancer programs. For help locating childhood cancer health professionals or a hospital with cancer programs, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), TTY at 1-800-332-8615.

Source: National Cancer Institute
Cache Date: December 10, 2004