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What is an enchondroma?

Enchondromas are non-cancerous cartilage tumors that can occur in the arms and legs.

  • Enchondromas are the most common type of bone tumor in the hand. 
  • Boys and girls of any racial background can be affected.
  • In general, enchondromas appear in adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Most researchers believe that enchondromas occur as a result of abnormal growth of the cartilage from the growth plate at the ends of the bones. 
  • Others believe that enchondromas grow from pockets of embryonic cartilage.

What are the symptoms of an enchondroma?

Most enchondromas don’t cause any symptoms. However, some children may experience pain in the affected area if any, or a combination of, the following occur:

  • The tumor becomes very large.
  • The tumor causes weakness of the affected bone, leading to a fracture.
  • The tumor causes abnormal growth of the affected area.

What other conditions are associated with enchondromas?

An enchondroma may appear as a solitary tumor or as multiple tumors. In cases that involve multiple tumors, the following conditions may be diagnosed:

  • Ollier's disease (enchondromatosis) — multiple enchondromas in various sites of the body; much less common than cases of single enchondroma.
  • Maffucci syndrome — multiple enchondromas associated with soft-tissue hemangiomas (benign tumors made up of blood vessels).

Support for your family

We understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with an enchondroma. Is it cancer? Will it spread? What do we do next? We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions in the following pages. Also, specialists at Children’s Hospital Boston often put patients and their families in touch with other families with children who have experienced this condition.

The Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program

You can have peace of mind knowing that the skilled experts in our Orthopedic Center's Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program have treated thousands of babies and children with many arm conditions.  We provide expert diagnosis, treatment and care, and we benefit from our advanced clinical and scientific research.

The Hand and Reconstructive Microsurgery Program

The specialists in the Hand and Reconstructive Microsurgery Program at Children's are experts in the management of congenital and acquired hand deformities. We recognize the social elements involved in pediatric hand surgery, so an essential part of these operations has been making the child's hand as symmetrical as possible with his unaffected hand.

Enchondroma | Diagnosis & Treatments

How are enchondromas diagnosed?

Your child’s doctor will diagnose an enchondroma after doing a thorough medical history and physical examination.

In addition, the following diagnostic tests may also be performed:

  • X-rays: A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test is particularly useful in identifying tumors in areas that are difficult to image on a plain x-ray.
  • Computerized tomography scan (also called CT or CAT scan): A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
  • Bone scan: A nuclear imaging method to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joints, to detect bone diseases and tumors, and to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation.

How are enchondromas treated?

Your child will receive individualized treatment decided upon by his doctor. The doctor will take into the account the following information:

  • your child's general health
  • your child's medical history
  • the extent of the condition

If your child shows no sign of bone weakness or continued tumor growth, your child's doctor may decide to simply observe the affected area to make sure the tumor is not getting worse.

If your child is in pain

Your child's doctor will recommend surgical removal of the enchondroma if it has caused:

Your child's doctor may also recommend surgery if the tumor has grown abnormally or if your child has multiple tumors.

Surgical treatment typically involves removing the enchondroma and using bone grafts to help in healing the area of the surgery.

What's my child's long-term outlook?

It depends on the severity of the condition, but most enchondromas respond well to treatment and do not recur.

Enchondroma | Programs & Services