Osteosarcoma | Diagnosis & Tests


What tests will the doctor use to tell if my child has osteosarcoma?

Physical exam: The doctor will check for general signs of health as well as examine the place around the swelling, lump or break. The doctor will also ask about your child’s or teenager’s health history and any previous health conditions or medical treatments.

X-ray: If your child or teenager has signs of an osteosarcoma, your doctor will order X-rays. If there is a tumor, it will usually show up on the X-ray.

MRI and CT: The doctor may also order an MRI scan, a CT scan (also called a CAT scan), or both. MRI scans take pictures that help the doctor see if the tumor has destroyed any of the bone, and a CT scan is useful to look at the belly to see if the disease has spread. Before a CT scan, your child or teenager might be given a kind of dye, either with a shot, or to be swallowed. The dye helps the organs or tissues show up more clearly on the scan.

Biopsy: A biopsy is important because malignant (cancerous) tumors and some infections can look like osteosarcoma on an X-ray. For the biopsy, a doctor with training in the treatment of bone cancer takes a piece of the tumor from the bone, sometimes with a needle, sometimes through an incision. This piece of tissue is looked at under a microscope to see if the tumor is an osteosarcoma.

Other tests: If your child or teenager has osteosarcoma, more tests will be done to see if the cancer has spread to the lungs or other organs. A bone scan will see if the cancer has spread to other bones. Before the bone scan, your child or teenager will be given a small shot of a radioactive substance that helps cancer cells show up on the scan. Other tests may also be needed.


Osteosarcoma: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment by JC Wittig, J Bickels, D Priebat, J Jelinek, K Kellar-Graney, B Shmookler, MM Malawer (American Family Physician March 15, 2002, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020315/1123.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/11
Created: 04/03