Treatment

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Your team of doctors, called a multidisciplinary team (MDT), will care for and treat your child, and will ensure that all your child’s needs are considered while they have cancer treatment. The section called The treatment team has further information about this.

Treatment for bone tumours depends on:

  • the age of your child
  • the stage of the cancer
  • the type of bone tumour
  • other factors.

Doctors will suggest treatments based on your child’s situation. Treatment may involve one or more of the following:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • targeted therapy.

Surgery

If your child has a bone tumour, they are likely to have surgery at some point during their treatment.

For bone tumours in the arms or legs, doctors can usually remove the tumour and some of the surrounding healthy tissue. Missing tissue is replaced with a graft or an implant. This procedure is called limb-sparing surgery. Most implants can be made longer as your child grows, without needing more surgery.

After limb-sparing surgery, your child will have intensive rehabilitation and physical therapy to make sure their limb continues to work normally. If the surgery was on a leg, it can take many months for your child to learn to walk again. Your MDT will be able to provide you with further details about what’s involved in rehabilitation.

In some cases, your doctors may need to remove (amputate) all or part of the arm or leg. This type of surgery can seem drastic and you may feel shocked, angry and upset about your child undergoing amputation. These feelings are very normal. However, your child will be able to be fitted with an artificial limb (prosthesis) which will allow them to perform many of the things they would have been able to do prior to amputation. Your child will need to have intensive rehabilitation therapy to help them learn to use their new limb. However modern technology has made artificial limbs very effective, with many people able to walk, run and even play sports using their prosthetic limbs.

Tumours in other bones where surgery might not be possible are usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Such areas include the spine, skull, chest or hips.

See How is cancer treated - surgery for more detail about cancer surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer medicines to destroy cancer cells. It’s often given as a combination of medicines to try to stop the cancer cells from becoming resistant to just one or two medicines.

Chemotherapy to treat bone tumours is usually given both before and after surgery:

  • before the surgery, it shrinks the tumour to make it easier to remove
  • after surgery, it destroys any remaining cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is usually part of treatment for all children with Ewing tumours. Your child may get chemotherapy combined with surgery and radiation therapy.

More detail about chemotherapy treatments can be found on our page How is cancer treated - chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is also called radiotherapy. It uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing.

For bone tumours, radiation therapy might be used to:

  • treat the tumour, combined with other treatments such as chemotherapy
  • get rid of any cancer cells that might be left after surgery
  • relieve symptoms of bone tumours (such as pain and swelling) if surgery is not a good option, or if the cancer has come back.

Osteosarcoma cells are not easily destroyed by radiation, so this treatment is not used in all cases of osteosarcoma.

Ewing tumours can be treated with radiation therapy either alone or with surgery, and usually with chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy can have long-term side effects in children. If radiation therapy is included in your child’s treatment, special care will be taken to reduce these risks. Be sure to speak to your doctor if you have concerns about radiation therapy.

You can find more detail about radiation therapy on our page How is cancer treated - radiation therapy.