An osteochondroma is the most common type of benign bone tumor. It is from cartilage tissue in children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 20. It usually appears on the bones of the arms and legs, and, less often, on the pelvic bones and shoulder blades. An osteochondroma ordinarily stops growing when a person reaches full height.
Most tissue in the body can grow beyond normal limits and form a mass, also known as a tumor. Tumors come in 2 forms: benign and malignant. The malignancies, which are referred to as cancer, rarely stop growing. The benign tumors reach a certain size and then stop.
The cause of osteochondroma remains unknown. A hereditary form of the disease may be related to one or more gene mutations.
Factors that may increase your risk of osteochondroma include:
- Multiple hereditary exostoses—In this rare inherited condition, numerous osteochondromas develop throughout the skeletal system often leading to bone deformities and an increased risk of cancer.
- Radiation treatment or exposure as a child
- Salter-Harris fractures
Symptoms may include:
- A hard, bony lump that may be:
- Painless and not tender, but the tissue around it may become irritated and painful
- Enlarging in size
- A long bone that breaks with less than the usual amount of force
- Pressure on nearby structures, including nerves
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will likely be referred to an orthopedic surgeon for further diagnosis and treatment.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Treatment options include the following:
If the lump is not uncomfortable or likely to cause a fracture or other problem, and there is no evidence that it is malignant, it can be left alone. Your doctor may want to retest periodically.
If the lump is large, uncomfortable, in a dangerous location, or suspected of being cancerous, surgical removal is the treatment of choice. This involves a general or regional anesthetic and a few days in the hospital. If the bone is weakened by the surgery, the surgeon may need to rebuild it, and the recovery time may be extended to weeks or months.
Since remnants of the tumor may remain after surgery, your doctor may want to retest you every few years to make sure it doesn’t start to grow again.
There are no preventive measures for osteochondroma.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Johns Hopkins University
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Childhood Cancer Canada
Murphey M, Choi J, Kransdorf M, et al. Imaging of Osteochondroma: variants and complications with radiologic-pathologic correlation. Radiographics. 2000 Sept-Oct;20(5):1407-34. Available at: http://radiographics.rsna.org/content/20/5/1407.long. Accessed June 18, 2015.
Osteochondroma. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00079. Updated May 2012. Accessed June 18, 2015.
Osteochondroma. BoneTumor.org website. Available at: http://www.bonetumor.org/tumors-cartilage/osteochondroma. Accessed June 18, 2015.
Patient guide to osteochondroma. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsortho.org/osteochondroma.html. Accessed June 18, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.