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Treating Osteosarcoma TOPICS

How is osteosarcoma treated?

General treatment information

Great advances have been made in the treatment of osteosarcoma during the past few decades. In the 1960s the only treatment available was amputation, and only a small number of patients survived 2 years or more after diagnosis.

Since that time, doctors have found that chemotherapy given before and after surgery will cure many people with osteosarcoma. It can also allow some people who previously would have needed to have a limb amputated to have limb-sparing surgery instead.

Making treatment decisions

Once osteosarcoma is found and staged, the cancer care team will talk with you about treatment options. It’s important to be sure you understand your options. Ask your cancer care team questions. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask the doctor about osteosarcoma?

Because osteosarcoma is rare, only doctors in major cancer centers have a lot of experience treating these cancers.

For children and teens, a team approach is recommended that includes the child’s pediatrician as well as children’s cancer specialists. Treatment is best done at a children’s cancer center. For adults with osteosarcoma, the treatment team typically includes the patient’s primary care doctor, as well as specialists at a major cancer center. Doctors on the treatment team might include:

  • An orthopedic surgeon (a surgeon who specializes in muscles and bones) who is experienced in treating bone tumors
  • A medical or pediatric oncologist (a doctor trained to treat cancer with chemotherapy and other drugs)
  • A radiation oncologist (a doctor trained to treat cancer with radiation therapy)
  • A pathologist (a doctor specializing in lab tests to diagnose and classify diseases)
  • A physiatrist (a doctor specializing in rehabilitation and physical therapy)

For both adults and children, the team will also include other doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals. For more information, see our document Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Understanding the Health Care System.

The types of treatment used for osteosarcomas include:

Most often, both chemotherapy and surgery are needed.

All of these treatments may have side effects, but many of them can be made less troublesome. Your medical team will help you take care of the side effects and can help you work closely with nutritionists, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals to understand and deal with medical problems, stress, and other issues related to the treatment.

Because many of these issues can be more complex for cancer in children and teens, many people will be involved in your child’s overall care. As a parent, taking care of a child with cancer can be a very big job. It’s important to remember that you will have a lot of help. It’s also important for you to know that the health professionals who treat children with osteosarcoma are using the experience and knowledge gained from many decades of studying the treatment of this disease.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The next few sections describe the types of treatment used for osteosarcomas. This is followed by a discussion of the most common treatment approaches based on the extent of the cancer

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Last Medical Review: 04/18/2014
Last Revised: 01/27/2016