The etiology of osteosarcoma

Cancer Treat Res. 2009:152:15-32. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-0284-9_2.


Studies to determine the etiology of osteosarcoma involve epidemiologic and environmental factors and genetic impairments. Factors related to patient characteristics include age, gender, ethnicity, growth and height, genetic and familial factors, and preexisting bone abnormalities. Rapidly proliferating cells may be particularly susceptible to oncogenic agents and mitotic errors which lead to neoplastic transformation. Genetic aberrations that accompany osteosarcoma have received increasing recognition as an important factor in its etiology. Osteosarcoma tumor cells exhibit karyotypes with a high degree of complexity which has made it difficult to determine whether any recurrent chromosomal aberrations characterize osteosarcoma. Although extremely rare, osteosarcoma has occasionally been observed in several members of the same family. No other clinical abnormalities in the proband or the affected members were reported. Pathologic examination of the tumors revealed no unusual features. Genetic testing was not available in most of these reports. The patients generally responded to conventional therapy. A genetic predisposition to osteosarcoma is found in patients with hereditary retinoblastoma, characterized by mutation of the retinoblastoma gene RB1 on chromosome 13q14. The Rothmund-Thomson syndrome is an autosomal recessive disorder with a heterogeneous clinical profile. Patients may have a few or multiple clinical features including skin rash, small stature, skeletal dysplasias, sparse or absent scalp hair, eyebrows or eyelashes, juvenile cataracts, and gastrointestinal disturbance including chronic emesis and diarrhea; its molecular basis is the mutation in the RECQL4 gene in a subset of cases. The Li-Fraumeni syndrome is an autosomal dominant disorder characterized by a high risk of developing osteosarcoma and has been found in up to 3% of children with osteosarcoma. It is associated with a germline mutation of the p53, a suppressor gene. The following three criteria must be met for a diagnosis of Li-Fraumeni syndrome: (1) A proband diagnosed with sarcoma when younger than 45 years; (2) A first-degree relative with any cancer diagnosed when younger than 45 years; (3) Another first- or second-degree relative of the same genetic lineage with any cancer diagnosed when younger than 45 years or sarcoma diagnosed at any age. A second recessive p53 oncogene on chromosome 17p13.1 may also play a role in the development and progression of osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma has also been associated with solitary or multiple osteochondroma, solitary enchondroma or enchondromatosis (Ollier's disease), multiple hereditary exostoses, fibrous dysplasia, chronic osteomyelitis, sites of bone infarcts, sites of metallic prostheses and sites of prior internal fixation. Ionizing radiation is a well-documented etiologic factor. Osteosarcoma has also been associated with the use of intravenous radium and Thorotrast. Exposure to alkylating agents may also contribute to its development ,and it is apparently independent of the administration of radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / adverse effects
  • Bone Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Bone Neoplasms / genetics
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Osteosarcoma / etiology*
  • Osteosarcoma / genetics


  • Alkylating Agents