Liaison: Liz Swearingen

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Osteosarcoma (OSA) is a malignant tumor of the bone (bone cancer). It can develop in any bone, but occurs most often in the limbs, near the shoulder, wrist or knee.

Click here to show/hide more detail Osteosarcoma (OSA) is the most common malignant bone tumor in dogs, but only accounts for 5% of canine tumors. It can develop in any bone, but 75-85% of canine osteosarcomas occur in the limbs (appendicular osteosarcoma). It is most common in large and giant breeds, developing at middle age or beyond, but it can occur at any age.

Osteosarcoma is painful and frequently causes lameness. It starts within the bone and destroys the bone from the inside out as it grows. Swelling may also be seen as the tumor grows and replaces normal bone with tumorous bone. The tumorous bone is weaker than healthy bone and can break easily (pathologic fracture) - this type of break will not heal.

Osteosarcoma is aggressive and highly metastatic, most osteosarcomas have already metastasized to the lungs or other bones when diagnosed.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms depend on the location of the tumor:


  • Lameness due to inflammation, fractures or microfractures

  • Swelling or mass at the site of the tumor, sometimes painful

Lower jaw or orbital (eye socket)

  • Difficulty swallowing

Skull or vertebrae

  • Neurologic deficits


  • Difficulty defecating


The exact cause of osteosarcoma is unknown. The tumors are often found near growth plates, so factors promoting rapid growth rate and bone turnover may be involved. In animal studies, several viruses (polyomavirus, SV-40 virus and type C retroviruses), fluoride, and metabolites of the insecticide diflubenzuron, have been linked to osteosarcoma.

Risk Factors

  • Dog is a large or giant breed

  • Previous fractures

  • Chronic bone infections

  • Foreign bodies such as metal bone implants

  • Mutation in p53 tumor suppressor gene

  • Spaying or neutering prior to one year of age (see link below)

Cooley DM et al. 2002. Endogenous Gonadal Hormone Exposure and Bone Sarcoma Risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 11:1434. three bones

Diagnostic Tests

Diagnosis may include the following:

  • Physical exam to rule out other causes of lameness

  • Orthopedic exam to rule out other causes of lameness

  • Neurological exam to rule out other causes of lameness

  • X-rays of the suspected tumor

  • X-rays of the lungs to look for metastases

  • Bone biopsy to definitively identify the tumor

  • Abdominal ultrasound (to look for metastases)

Other types of cancer and infection must be ruled out.

  • Chondrosarcoma - a tumor of the cartilage

  • Squamous cell carcinoma in the external coating of bone

  • Synovial cell sarcoma - a tumor of the joint capsule lining

  • Infection of the bone such as Coccidioidomycosis, caused by the fungus Coccidiodes immitis

Treatment Guidelines

Note: Treatment of animals should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian. Veterinarians should consult the current literature and current pharmacological formularies before initiating any treatment protocol.

Treatment plans for osteosarcoma may be either curative or palliative (relieve/lessen pain without curing).

If the intent is to attempt a cure, the tumor must be removed either by amputation or, when possible, limb sparing procedures. Surgery may be followed by chemotherapy to reduce metastases. Because most tumors have already metastasized when diagnosed, cure is difficult.

Palliative care typically includes radiation and pain medication.

Artemisinin is an herb that has been shown to kill some cancer cells in the laboratory. Anecdotal reports claim that it can stop the growth of osteosarcoma in dogs, but peer-reviewed scientific research has not yet been published.


Prognosis depends on many factors including the dog’s age (it is more aggressive in younger dogs), size of tumor, location of tumor, blood levels of alkaline phosphatase, and presence of metastases. Survival times vary greatly. Median survival times of 3-18 months have been reported, depending on the location.


If amputation is required, most dogs do very well on three legs, not realizing that they are disabled!

Help for Tripod Dogs one


Osteosarcoma, caninecancer.com one bone

Canine Osteosarcoma, marvistavet.com two bones

1 bone 2 bones 3 bones 4 bones (full description of ratings)

Support Groups

Bone Cancer Dogs, Inc.

Canine Cancer Awareness Organization

Bone Cancer Dogs

Yahoo Group

Chun R et al: Cisplatin and doxorubicin combination chemotherapy for the treatment of canine osteosarcoma: J Vet Intern Med. 2000 Sep-Oct;14(5):495-8. three bones

BoneCancerDogs, Inc one bone

Osteosarcoma - Wikipedia two bones

Bone Cancer in Dogs at www.dogcancer.net one bone

Canine Osteosarcoma: The Most Common Bone Disease at www.vetinfo.com two bones

Kuntz C. Appendix B: Canine Osteosarcoma. In Musculoskeletal Cancer Surgery, Treatment of Sarcomas and Allied Diseases. Ed. MM Malawer and PH Sugarbaker. Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001. four bones

Canine Osteosarcoma: Amputation and Life Quality at www.dogcancerblog.com two bones

Canine Osteosarcoma Treatment at www.dog-health-guide.org two bones

The Gabriel Institute - Research in Canine Osteosarcoma one bone

Common Cancers - Osteosarcoma at www.caninecancerawareness.org one bone

1 bone 2 bones 3 bones 4 bones (full description of ratings)

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