Osteosarcoma Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for osteosarcoma?

The exact cause of most osteosarcomas is not known. But we do know that certain risk factors are linked to this disease. A risk factor is something that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person’s age or race, can’t be changed. Different cancers have different risk factors.

So far, lifestyle-related factors (like bad diets, lack of exercise, or obesity) have not been linked to osteosarcoma in children or in adults.

Risk factors for osteosarcoma

Age and height: The risk of osteosarcoma is highest during the teenage growth spurts. Children with osteosarcoma are usually tall for their age. There may be a link between rapid bone growth and the risk of tumors forming. Osteosarcoma in older adults is often linked to a different cause, such as a long-standing bone disease.

Gender: Osteosarcoma is more common in males than in females.

Race/ethnicity: Osteosarcoma is slightly more common in African Americans than in whites.

Radiation to bones: Young people who were treated with radiation for an earlier cancer have a higher risk of getting osteosarcoma in the same area later. It is not clear if tests that such as x-rays, CT scans, and bone scans, raise the risk of osteosarcoma. The amount of radiation used for these tests is many times lower than that used for cancer treatment. If there is any increased risk it is likely to be very small, but doctors try to limit the use of these types of tests in children when they can, just in case.

Certain bone diseases: People with certain non-cancer bone diseases have an increased risk of getting osteosarcoma. Some of these diseases include Paget disease of bone and multiple hereditary osteochondromas.

Certain cancer syndromes: Some people inherit gene changes from their parents that put them at increased risk for some types of cancer. People with certain rare, inherited cancer syndromes have an increased risk of getting osteosarcoma. One of these syndromes is Li-Fraumeni syndrome. When children with the inherited form of retinoblastoma (a rare eye cancer) are treated with radiation it raises the chance of osteosarcoma in the bones of the skull. There are several other rare syndromes that increase the risk of osteosarcoma in children.

It is important to keep in mind that most people with osteosarcoma do not have any known risk factors. For most patients, the cause of their cancer is not clear.


Last Medical Review: 01/24/2013
Last Revised: 01/24/2013