Usually you begin by seeing your GP, who will examine you and may arrange any necessary tests or x-rays. If a chondrosarcoma is suspected, you should be referred directly to a specialist hospital or bone tumour centre for further investigation. Many of the specific tests for diagnosing bone tumours, such as bone biopsies, need to be done by an experienced team using specialist techniques.
The doctor at the hospital will ask you about your general health and any previous medical problems. They will examine you, which will include an examination of the painful bone to check for any swelling or tenderness. You will probably have a blood test to check your general health.
A variety of other tests and investigations may be needed to diagnose a chondrosarcoma. An x-ray of the painful part of the bone usually shows the tumour. A small piece of the tumour may be removed and looked at under a microscope (a biopsy). Other tests are done to check whether the cancer has spread elsewhere.
This uses x-rays to build up a picture of the bone.
The doctor will take a sample of cells (a biopsy) to be examined by a pathologist (a doctor that specialises in cell types). If your doctor thinks you have bone cancer, the biopsy should be done at a specialist bone cancer centre.
A small sample of the tumour is taken from the affected bone using a needle. You will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area. Sometimes a general anaesthetic is used.
Open or surgical biopsy
This type of biopsy is not often used, as the needle biopsy is much quicker and simpler. In an open biopsy, a small piece of bone is removed during a minor operation while you are under a general anaesthetic. It may be necessary to do this if a needle biopsy can’t be done or doesn’t give a clear diagnosis.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
This test uses magnetism instead of x-rays to build up cross-sectional pictures of your body. During the test, you will be asked to lie very still on a couch inside a large metal cylinder that is open at both ends.
The whole test may take up to an hour. It can be slightly uncomfortable and some people feel a bit claustrophobic during the scan. It's very noisy, but you'll be given earplugs or headphones. You'll be able to hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.
If you have any metal implants (such as surgical clips or a pacemaker), it will not be possible for you to have this test. In this situation, another type of scan may be used.
CT (computerised tomography) scan
In some people with chondrosarcoma, the cancer may spread to the lungs. A CT scan may be done to check for this. The scan takes a series of x-rays that build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan is painless and takes just a few minutes. A CT scan uses small amounts of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you or anyone you come into contact with. You may be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.
You may be given a drink or an injection of dye that allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. For a few minutes this may make you feel hot all over. If you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, you could have a more serious reaction to the injection, so it's important to let your doctor know beforehand.
You'll probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.
This is a more sensitive test than the bone x-ray and shows up any abnormal areas of bone more clearly. For this test, a small amount of a mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. Abnormal bone absorbs more radioactivity than normal bone, so these areas are highlighted and picked up by the scanner as ‘hot spots’.
Waiting for test results can be an anxious time for you. It may help to talk about your worries with a relative or friend. You could also speak to one of our cancer support specialists.