Chondroblastoma Symptoms & Causes

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At Boston Children’s Hospital, we understand that you may have a lot of questions if your child is diagnosed with a chondroblastoma. Will it affect my child long term? What do we do next? We’ve provided some answers to those questions on this site, and when you meet with our doctors, they can fully explain your child’s condition.

What is chondroblastoma?

Every child has chondroblasts—specialized, cartilage-producing cells. But sometimes, these cells can grow out of control and cause a benign (non-cancerous) tumor known as a chondroblastoma. These tumors are usually found in the ends of long bones, such as the thighbone, upper arm bone or shinbone. Sometimes they grow in the pelvis or the hip socket. While a chondroblastoma is considered a benign tumor, it does have the potential to spread (metastasize) to the lungs.

How serious is chondroblastoma? Why is it a problem?

Although benign and not life-threatening, chondroblastoma is a slow-growing tumor that weakens the bone and causes kids a lot of pain. Chondroblastoma is also hard to diagnose; it can cause teens and their families a great deal of frustration while doctors go through the process of ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Is chondroblastoma common?

No, chondroblastoma is a very rare type of benign bone tumor. It appears more often in boys than girls and tends to occur during a child’s teenage years, around the time that the growth plates start to close.

How do you diagnose chondroblastoma?

Doctors use some combination of the following techniques to diagnose chondroblastoma:

How do you treat chondroblastoma?

Specialists usually treat chondroblastoma with surgery. The tumor often occurs near a joint, making it a challenge to remove.

Does my child’s bone growth affect how you treat his chondroblastoma?

The majority of kids who develop chondroblastomas are older teens whose growth plates are starting to close; so their growth plates are unlikely to be affected by surgery to remove the tumor. But with younger teens or children, surgeons take extra care not to disturb the growth plate when removing the tumor.

How long after treatment will it take for my child to feel better, and heal?

Teens and children often feel better almost immediately after surgery, which usually involves bone grafting. It takes about two to three months for a knee or leg graft to heal, and kids usually use crutches for much of that time. Arms heal a bit faster, since the body puts less physical stress on the arm.

Is there a risk of early arthritis when my child grows up?

Even with successful surgery to remove the chondroblastoma, if the tumor involved the bones of a joint there’s still some risk of early arthritis (joint inflammation) when a child reaches adulthood.

Will my child be OK?

Your child’s long-term health outlook after surgery for chondroblastoma is very good, although the condition can recur. It may require multiple operations to eventually be free of the tumor, but it helps to remember that this is a benign tumor, and that with timely treatment it won’t spread.

At Children’s, our research into bone problems means that we can provide your child with the most innovative care available. The overwhelming majority of children treated for chondroblastoma at Children’s have corrections that enable their bones to grow and function normally—so they can walk, play, grow and live active lives.


How can Boston Children’s Hospital help?

The team in our Bone and Soft Tissue Tumor Program is known for innovative treatments and a research-driven approach. Boston Children’s is home to the world’s most extensive pediatric research enterprise, and we partner with elite health care and biotech organizations around the globe. But as specialists in family-centered care, our doctors never forget that your child is precious, and not just a patient.

Causes

Chondroblasts are specialized cells found at the end of bones that normally produce cartilage. Sometimes, these cells can grow out of control and cause a benign tumor known as a chondroblastoma. The cause of this condition is unknown and is being researched.

Signs and symptoms

While symptoms may vary from child-to-child, the most common include:

  • ongoing pain, usually severe, in the affected area
  • swelling
  • joint stiffness
  • decreased range of motion
  • limping
     

The symptoms of chondroblastoma may resemble those of other medical problems. So, it’s important that your child be evaluated by a doctor to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
 

When to seek medical advice

A bone tumor should be treated quickly and correctly—the sooner a chondroblastoma is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances for a successful removal of the tumor. Consult your pediatrician immediately if your child has:

  • ongoing pain, usually severe, in the affected area
  • swelling
  • joint stiffness
  • decreased range of motion
  • limping
     

Who’s at risk

The teenage years are when kids are more likely to develop chondroblastoma. Boys are slightly more likely than girls to develop the tumor. Beyond these factors, there’s no way to predict who’s at risk for developing a chondroblastoma.                                             


Complications

Although complications after surgery for chondroblastomas are relatively uncommon, they can occur and can include:

  • post-surgery complications, including:
    • infection
    • damage to blood vessels or nerves
  • early arthritis
  • premature growth plate closure (for children with open growth plates)
     

Long-term outlook

Our research into bone tumors means that we can provide your child with the most innovative care available. As a result, the overwhelming majority of children treated for chondroblastoma at Children’s have treatment that enables their bones to grow and function normally—so they can walk, play, grow and live active lives.
 

For teens

If you’re teen with a chondroblastoma, you have a lot to cope with. Besides the typical issues any teenager faces—from social acceptance to body changes and more—you’ll also have to deal with medical appointments and procedures, and with limiting your activities while you get better.

If you’re usually active, sitting on the sidelines for a while as you heal can be frustrating. If you feel down, angry or anxious through this important time in your life, speak to your doctor, parent or counselor to get help—they’re all on your team, and they want to help. And remember that Children’s Bone and Soft Tissue Tumor Program is always here for you, too.
 

Prevention

Since there’s no way to predict who’s at risk for developing a chondroblastoma, there’s also no known way to prevent one from developing.
 

Chondroblastoma glossary

  • benign: non-cancerous; word is primarily used to describe a non-cancerous tumor, such as chondroblastoma
     
  • biopsy: tissue sample from the tumor: provides definitive information about the type of tumor; in chondroblastoma, this is collected during surgery
     
  • The Center for Families at Children’s: gateway to services and amenities at Children’s; dedicated to helping families find the information, services and resources they need to understand their child’s medical condition and take part in their care
     
  • cartilage: smooth, rubbery tissue that cushion the bones at the knee joint, between the vertebrae and other areas; allows the bones to move easily without pain
     
  • chondroblastoma: a benign bone tumor that results from chondroblast cells (see below) that grow out of control
     
  • chondroblasts: specialized, cells that normally develop into chondrocytes, the cells that make cartilage
     
  • computed tomography (CT, CAT) scan: a non-invasive procedure that uses X-ray equipment and powerful computers to create detailed, cross-sectional images of your child’s body. The CT scanner is a large machine that looks like a big doughnut.
     
  • diagnosis, diagnostics: identifying disease or injury through examination, testing and observation
     
  • femur: thigh bone (upper leg); the longest and strongest of your child’s bones; one of the three long bones in the leg
     
  • growth plate (physis): areas of cartilage at either end of a bone from which growth occurs. As key components of a child’s developing skeletal system, growth plates largely turns to bone (ossify) as a child grows.
     
  • humerus: long bone of the upper arm
     
  • internal fixation: metal screws and pins surgically inserted inside the bone to hold bone fragments in place to allow alignment and healing
     
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): produces detailed images of organs and structures within the body; best for looking at soft/non-bone tissues such as ligaments, tendons, muscle, and cartilage.
     
  • non-surgical (non-operative) treatments: alternatives to surgery
     
  • orthopedic surgeon, orthopedist: a physician specializing in surgical and non-surgical treatment of the spine, skeletal system and associated muscles, joins and ligaments
     
  • orthopedics: the medical specialty concerned with diagnosing, treating, rehabilitating and preventing disorders and injuries to the spine, skeletal system and associated muscles, joints and ligaments
     
  • physis, physes: growth plate(s) at both ends of a bone; the source of bone growth
     
  • post-operative (post-op): after surgery
     
  • pre-operative (pre-op): before surgery
     
  • skeletally immature: in pre-pubescent or early-adolescent children, the bones of the skeleton haven’t yet fully grown
     
  • x-ray (radiograph): common, diagnostic radiology; shows the dense structures, including bones, inside your child’s body. X-rays are fast, non-invasive and easy to take, making them particularly useful for emergency diagnoses.


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