An enchondroma is a type of noncancerous bone tumor that originates from cartilage. Cartilage is the specialized, gristly connective tissue from which most bones develop. An enchondroma most often affects the cartilage that lines the inside of the bones. The bones most often involved are the miniature long bones of the hands and feet. It may, however, also involve other bones such as the femur (thighbone), humerus (upper arm bone) or tibia (one of the two lower leg bones).

Enchondromas are the most common type of hand tumor. While it may affect an individual at any age, it is most common between the ages of 10 and 20 years.

What causes enchondroma?

While the exact cause of enchondroma is not known, it is believed to occur either as an overgrowth of the cartilage that lines the ends of the bones, or as a persistent growth of original, embryonic cartilage.

What are the symptoms of an enchondroma?

Individuals with an enchondroma often have no symptoms at all. The following are the most common symptoms of an enchondroma:

  • Hand pain that may occur if the tumor is very large, or if the affected bone has weakened and caused a hand fracture
  • Enlargement of the affected finger
  • Slow bone growth in the affected area

How is an enchondroma diagnosed?

Because an individual with an enchondroma has few symptoms, diagnosis is sometimes made during a routine physical examination, or if the presence of the tumor leads to a fracture in the hand. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for enchondroma may include:

  • X-rays
  • Radionuclide bone scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan).

How is an enchondroma treated?

Treatment may include bone grafting, which is a surgical procedure in which healthy bone is transplanted from another part of the patient’s body into the affected area.

If there is no sign of bone weakening or growth of the tumor, only observation may be suggested. However, follow-up with repeat X-rays may be necessary. Some types of enchondromas can develop into malignant, or cancerous, bone tumors later. We recommend careful follow-up with your child’s doctor.