What is chondrosarcoma?

Chondrosarcoma is a type of primary bone cancer (also called bone sarcoma). Sarcomas are rare cancers that develop in the supporting tissues of the body. Supporting tissues include bone, cartilage, tendons, fat and muscle.

There are 2 main types of sarcoma:

Primary bone cancer can develop in any bone in the body. It can also develop in the soft tissue near bones.

Chondrosarcoma is one of the more common types of primary bone cancer. It is a cancer of the cartilage cells. Cartilage is a tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of the bones, where they meet at the joints. Cartilage cushions the joints and allows the ends of the bones to move smoothly over one another.

Chondrosarcoma usually grows in a bone or on its surface. It can happen at any age but is more common in people over the age of 40. It is slightly more common in men than women.

The most common bones affected are the:

  • upper arm (humerus)
  • thigh (femur)
  • pelvis
  • shoulder blade (scapula)
  • rib
  • spine.

There are different types of chondrosarcoma. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain more about the type you have. The different types may be treated differently.

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Symptoms of chondrosarcoma

Pain is the most common symptom of bone cancer, including chondrosarcoma. But symptoms may vary, depending on what part of the body the cancer is in.

The area may be:

  • swollen
  • painful when touched.

Primary bone cancer is sometimes found when a bone breaks after a minor fall or accident. This is because it has been weakened by the cancer.

Most of the time, these symptoms are caused by other conditions that are more common than bone cancer. But if you have any swelling or unexplained bone pain, get it checked by your GP.

Tell your GP if the pain happens at night and when you are resting.

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Causes of chondrosarcoma

The exact causes of chondrosarcoma are not known.

People who have had a rare non-cancerous (benign) bone tumour called a chondroma or osteochondroma have a slightly higher risk of developing a chondrosarcoma.

Another rare condition called Ollier’s disease can also increase the risk of chondrosarcoma. Ollier’s disease is also known as enchondromatosis.

People with rare genetic conditions called hereditary multiple exostoses (HME) and Maffucci syndrome are slightly more likely to develop a chondrosarcoma.

Diagnosis of chondrosarcoma

You usually start by visiting your GP. They will check the area, and your general health. They may arrange some tests or x-rays.

Your GP will refer you to a specialist sarcoma centre for tests if they:

  • are not sure what the problem is
  • think you may have a bone cancer.

You may have some of the following tests to diagnose chondrosarcoma:

  • Bone x-ray

    You may have an x-ray to check an area of bone for cancer. An x-ray shows a picture of the bone. This can give information about where the cancer may have started or what type of bone cancer it is.

  • MRI scan

    An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body.

  • CT scan

    A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the inside of the body. You may have a CT of the affected bone and sometimes of the chest.

  • Bone biopsy

    A bone biopsy means the doctor takes a sample of tissue from the bone to be checked for cancer under a microscope.

Bone biopsies and other tests to diagnose bone cancer are done by sarcoma specialists. Tests may be done on the tissue sample to find out if there are any genetic changes in the sarcoma cells. This is sometimes called cytogenetic testing. The tissue sample is also tested to look for any proteins the cancer cell might be producing.

This information can help tell your doctor the type of sarcoma you have and if certain treatments are suitable for you.

We have more information about diagnosing bone cancer.

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. We have more information that can help.

Staging and grading

The results of your tests give your cancer doctor information about the stage and grade of the cancer.

The stage of the cancer refers to its size and whether it has spread outside the bone.

The grade of the cancer is how the cancer cells look under the microscope. This gives doctors an idea of how quickly a cancer may grow and develop. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain how it may help plan your treatment.

The most common grading system for primary bone cancer uses the following 3 grades:

  • Grade 1 - cancer cells are low-grade and look like normal bone cells. They are usually slow-growing and less likely to spread.
  • Grade 2 - cancer cells are high-grade and look abnormal. The cells are likely to grow more quickly and are more likely to spread.
  • Grade 3 - cancer cells are high-grade and look more abnormal than grade 2. This means the cancer is more likely to come back (recur) or spread to other parts of the body.

Chondrosarcomas are usually low-grade tumours. They can sometimes develop into a high-grade type of bone sarcoma called a de-differentiated chondrosarcoma. These grow more quickly than grade 3 chondrosarcomas.

There are some other rare types of chondrosarcoma which behave differently.

We have more information about staging and grading bone cancer. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain how it may help plan your treatment.

Treatment for chondrosarcoma

Chondrosarcoma is rare, so it is treated by a team of doctors and other healthcare professionals at a hospital with a specialist sarcoma treatment centre.

Your test results are discussed by a team of specialist health care professionals. If your tests show a diagnosis of bone cancer, a team of specialist doctors and other professionals called a multidisciplinary team (MDT) will meet. They will discuss the best possible treatment for you.

After the MDT meeting, your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain the treatment options and possible side effects to you. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making a decision.

The type of treatment you have depends on:

  • the position of the cancer
  • the size of the cancer
  • if it has spread (its stage)
  • the grade of the cancer
  • the subtype of chondrosarcoma
  • your general health.

Surgery is the main treatment for chondrosarcoma. Other treatments sometimes used are chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

  • Surgery

    Surgery is the main treatment for chondrosarcoma. Surgery aims to remove the affected area of bone. The type of surgery will depend on the stage and grade of the chondrosarcoma, and where the cancer is. Some people might have reconstructive surgery at the same time as the operation. If you have a bone sarcoma in an arm or leg, it is usually possible to remove the sarcoma with limb-sparing surgery. Very rarely, the best treatment is to remove the whole of the affected limb (amputation).

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells. Radiotherapy is not often used to treat chondrosarcoma. It may be used if surgery is not possible, or if it is not possible to remove all the cancer with surgery. This might be for chondrosarcoma in the base of the skull, spine or pelvis. Radiotherapy may also be used for some subtypes of chondrosarcoma, or if it is higher grade. It may also be used to control symptoms. Sometimes, a type of radiotherapy called proton beam therapy (PBT) is used.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is not often used to treat chondrosarcoma. It may sometimes be given before surgery to try to reduce the size of the cancer. This depends on the subtype, position and stage of the chondrosarcoma. It may also be given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Sometimes, chemotherapy is also used to control symptoms.

You may be offered some treatments as part of a clinical trial.

We have more information about bone cancer treatment.

After chondrosarcoma treatment


After you finish treatment, you will have regular check-ups for a few years. This will include chest x-rays. You may also have scans and blood tests.

If you have any problems, or notice any new symptoms in between your regular follow-up appointments, tell your cancer doctor as soon as possible.

Possible late effects

A small number of people have side effects that continue after treatment. This will vary depending on the size and position of the tumour and the treatment. You may have rehabilitation to help you recover and manage any side effects.

Sometimes side effects develop after treatment and some may happen many years later. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will explain more about any possible late effects and what can help to manage them. Always tell them if side effects are not improving.

Sex and fertility

Cancer and its treatment can sometimes affect your sex life. There are ways to help your sexual well-being and to manage any problems.

Cancer and its treatment may cause changes to your body that affect your body image. There are things that can help you to cope with these changes.

Treatment for sarcoma may affect your fertility. If you are worried about your fertility it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment. We have more information about:

Well-being and recovery

Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.

Making small changes such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and well-being and help your body recover.

Getting support

After finishing treatment, you may still be coping with difficult feelings. Talking to your family and friends or health professionals about how you feel can help to support your well-being.

Organisations such as Sarcoma UK and the Bone Cancer Research Trust can provide information and support. Cancer52 works to improve the quality of life for people with rare cancers.

We understand that showing any symptoms of what could be cancer is worrying. The most important thing is to speak to your GP as soon as possible. We're also here if you need someone to talk to. You can:

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About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by senior medical editor Fiona Cowie, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2022
Next review: 01 August 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.