Giant Cell Tumor

A giant cell tumor is one that is made up of a large number of noncancerous cells that form an aggressive tumor, usually near the end of the bone near a joint. The location of a giant cell tumor is often in the knee, but can also involve the bones of the arms and the legs, or the flat bones such as the sternum (breastbone) or pelvis.

Giant cell tumors most often occur in young adults when skeletal bone growth is complete. Most occur in the long bones of the legs and arms.

What causes giant cell tumors?

While the exact cause of giant cell tumors remains unknown, in some cases, they have been linked to Paget disease. Paget disease of the bone is a chronic bone disorder in which bones become enlarged and deformed.

What are the symptoms of a giant cell tumor?

The following are the most common symptoms of a giant cell tumor:

  • Pain at the nearest joint
  • A visible mass
  • Swelling
  • Bone fracture
  • Limited movement in the nearest joint
  • Fluid accumulation in the joint nearest the affected bone

How is a giant cell tumor diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for giant cell tumors may include:

  • X-rays, CT scan or MRI
  • Radionuclide bone scans
  • Biopsy

How is a giant cell tumor treated?

The goal for treatment of a giant cell tumor is to remove the tumor and prevent damage to the affected bone. Treatment may include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor and any damaged bone
  • Bone grafting, a surgical procedure in which healthy bone is transplanted to the affected area
  • Bone reconstruction
  • Amputation may be required in severe cases
  • Physical therapy to regain strength and mobility

Tumors that cannot be removed surgically can often be controlled and sometimes destroyed with radiation therapy. New therapies are being sought for giant cell tumors of bone, and recent clinical trials have been promising. Your child’s doctor will recommend the latest available treatments.

Giant cell tumors can recur. We recommend regular follow-up with your child’s doctor may for several years.