Osteosarcoma treatment can produce both short-term and long-term side effects. There are a number of ways to manage these side effects (e.g., medications to help ease chemotherapy-induced nausea), but it’s important to take any potential complications into consideration when deciding on a treatment plan.
Side effects of chemotherapy for osteosarcoma
When chemotherapy is used as a treatment for osteosarcoma, most of the side effects appear during the treatment process. For instance, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, anemia and loss of appetite may occur, but these symptoms typically resolve within a few weeks after treatment is completed. However, some longer-term side effects of chemotherapy for bone cancer may include:
- Cardiotoxicity (heart damage)
- Pulmonary toxicity (lung damage)
- Gradual hearing loss
Oncologists can recommend various medications to help counteract these side effects. Long-term monitoring programs may also be recommended to ensure that any residual complications are adequately diagnosed and treated.
Side effects of surgery for osteosarcoma
Before discussing the potential side effects of osteosarcoma surgery, it may be helpful to explain exactly what the goal of surgery is and what the process involves. The main objective of bone cancer surgery is to remove the tumor in question. Surgeons often have to also remove some of the healthy tissue surrounding a tumor in order to ensure that no cancerous cells are left behind, since any remaining cells could continue growing and form a new tumor following surgery.
Once the surgeon removes the tissue, they send it to a pathologist to examine under a microscope. If the edges of the tissue contain cancer cells (“positive margins”), then there might still be some cancer remaining in the patient’s body. If the tissue edges are free of cancer cells (“negative margins”), then there’s less of a chance that any of the cancer was left behind, and therefore less of a risk that the malignancy will recur.
So, what are the side effects of bone cancer surgery? As with chemotherapy, osteosarcoma surgery is most frequently associated with short-term side effects. Infection, swelling and blood loss are most common, although minimally invasive surgical techniques can often help reduce the likelihood of these complications. It’s also quite common for patients to experience pain following bone cancer surgery, and as such, they may be prescribed pain medication to use while they’re recovering from the procedure.
There’s also a chance that osteosarcoma surgery can produce long-term side effects. These effects will vary depending on factors such as the location of the tumor and the type of surgery being performed. For example, when a patient undergoes limb-sparing surgery for a tumor located in one of their legs, they will likely have trouble walking following the procedure (according to the American Cancer Society, it usually takes about one year for patients to relearn how to walk after this type of surgery).
Side effects of radiation therapy for osteosarcoma
Depending on the treatment site, radiation therapy can cause long-term side effects that are similar to those of chemotherapy (e.g., heart or lung damage if the radiation is directed at the chest), as well as some unique side effects, such as a loss of fertility if the radiation is directed at the pelvis. Radiation therapy can also cause temporary changes to a woman’s menstrual cycle that typically resolve after the completion of treatment.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to osteosarcoma
It’s to be expected that the possibility of side effects is on your mind as you consider your bone cancer treatment. At Moffitt Cancer Center, you’re not alone—we’re committed to helping you find the options that are most appropriate for your unique needs. We offer a variety of advanced therapies and supportive care services in a single location and are continually investigating ways to improve our patients’ long-term outcomes.
Our osteosarcoma specialists can provide more specific information about the potential side effects of treatment. No referral is required to make an appointment; you can call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to schedule a consultation. We’ll put you in touch with one of the cancer experts on our team as soon as possible.
American Cancer Society: Surgery for Osteosarcoma