Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Osteosarcoma and Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma of Bone Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
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Osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of the bone are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in bone.
Osteosarcoma usually starts in osteoblasts, which are a type of bone cell that becomes new bone tissue. Osteosarcoma is most common in adolescents. It commonly forms in the ends of the long bones of the body, which include bones of the arms and legs. In children and adolescents, it often forms in the long bones, near the knee. Rarely, osteosarcoma may be found in soft tissue or organs in the chest or abdomen.
Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer. Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of bone is a rare tumor of the bone. It is treated like osteosarcoma.
Ewing sarcoma is another kind of bone cancer, but it is not covered in this summary. See the PDQ summary about Ewing Sarcoma Treatment for more information.
Having past treatment with radiation can increase the risk of osteosarcoma.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk. Risk factors for osteosarcoma include the following:
Signs and symptoms of osteosarcoma and MFH include swelling over a bone or a bony part of the body and joint pain.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by osteosarcoma or MFH or by other conditions. Check with a doctor if your child has any of the following:
Imaging tests are used to detect (find) osteosarcoma and MFH.
Imaging tests are done before a biopsy. The following tests and procedures may be used:
A biopsy is done to diagnose osteosarcoma.
Cells and tissues are removed during a biopsy so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. It is important that the biopsy be done by a surgeon who is an expert in treating cancer of the bone. It is best if that surgeon is also the one who removes the tumor. The biopsy and the surgery to remove the tumor are planned together. The way the biopsy is done affects which type of surgery can be done later.
The type of biopsy that is done will be based on the size of the tumor and where it is in the body. There are two types of biopsy that may be used:
The following test may be done on the tissue that is removed:
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis is affected by certain factors before and after treatment.
The prognosis of untreated osteosarcoma and MFH depends on the following:
After osteosarcoma or MFH is treated, prognosis also depends on the following:
Treatment options for osteosarcoma and MFH depend on the following:
After osteosarcoma or malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread to other parts of the body is called staging. For osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH), most patients are grouped according to whether cancer is found in only one part of the body (localized) or has spread (metastatic).
The following tests and procedures may be used:
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if osteosarcoma spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually osteosarcoma cells. The disease is metastatic osteosarcoma, not lung cancer.
Osteosarcoma and MFH are described as either localized or metastatic.
Sometimes osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone comes back after treatment.
The cancer may recur (come back) in the bone or in other parts of the body. Osteosarcoma and MFH most often recur in the lung, bone, or both. When osteosarcoma recurs, it is usually within 18 months after treatment is completed.
There are different types of treatment for patients with osteosarcoma or malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of bone.
Different types of treatment are available for children with osteosarcoma or malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) of bone. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.
Because cancer in children is rare, taking part in a clinical trial should be considered. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Children with osteosarcoma or MFH should have their treatment planned by a team of health care providers who are experts in treating cancer in children.
Treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating children with cancer. The pediatric oncologist works with other pediatric health care providers who are experts in treating osteosarcoma and MFH and who specialize in certain areas of medicine. These may include the following specialists:
Five types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery to remove the entire tumor will be done when possible. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to make the tumor smaller. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is given so less bone tissue needs to be removed and there are fewer problems after surgery.
The following types of surgery may be done:
Studies have shown that survival is the same whether the first surgery done is a limb-sparing surgery or an amputation.
After the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, patients are given chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that are left in the area where the tumor was removed or that have spread to other parts of the body. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy).
Combination chemotherapy is the use of more than one anticancer drug.
Chemotherapy is usually given before and after surgery to remove the primary tumor.
See Drugs Approved for Bone Cancer for more information.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:
Osteosarcoma and MFH cells are not killed easily by external radiation therapy. It may be used when a small amount of cancer is left after surgery or used together with other treatments.
Samarium is a radioactive drug that targets areas where bone cells are growing, such as tumor cells in bone. It helps relieve pain caused by cancer in the bone and it also kills blood cells in the bone marrow. It also is used to treat osteosarcoma that has come back after treatment in a different bone.
Treatment with samarium may be followed by stem cell transplant. Before treatment with samarium, stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient and are frozen and stored. After treatment with samarium is complete, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to attack cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do. There are different types of targeted therapy being used to treat osteosarcoma or studied in clinical trials:
Treatment for osteosarcoma or malignant fibrous histiocytoma may cause side effects.
For information about side effects that begin during treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Side effects from cancer treatment that begin after treatment and continue for months or years are called late effects. Late effects of cancer treatment may include the following:
Some late effects may be treated or controlled. It is important to talk with your child's doctors about the effects cancer treatment can have on your child. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information).
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your child's condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of newly diagnosed localized osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone may include the following:
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
When osteosarcoma or malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) spreads, it usually spreads to the lung. Treatment of newly diagnosed osteosarcoma and MFH with lung metastasis may include the following:
Bone Metastasis or Bone with Lung Metastasis
Newly diagnosed osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma may spread to a distant bone and/or the lung. Treatment may include the following:
Treatment of recurrent osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone, see the following:
For more childhood cancer information and other general cancer resources, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. 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 come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of osteosarcoma and malignant fibrous histiocytoma of bone. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
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Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Updated") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
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 the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Osteosarcoma and Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma of Bone Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/bone/patient/osteosarcoma-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389380]
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Last Revised: 2020-04-29
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