Orthopedic oncology: what you need to know
Orthopedic oncology is the subspecialty of orthopedics that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of tumors of the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones and soft tissues. Orthopedic oncologists treat conditions such as:
- Bone sarcomas (cancer of the bone)
- Soft tissue sarcomas (cancer that arises in the body’s connective tissues, which includes fat, muscle and nerves)
- Metastatic bone disease (cancer that begins in another part of the body and then spreads to the bone)
- Benign bone tumors and cysts
Tumors of the musculoskeletal system can be distinguished as benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors are the most common.
Dr. Luke Balsamo, a fellowship trained orthopedic oncologist who operates at Sentara Leigh Hospital, provides highly specialized care for both adults and children who have benign or malignant tumors of the bones and soft tissues.
“Many of the tumors I treat are incidental findings, which means they were found when the patient was being treated for something else,” explains Dr. Balsamo. “These are far and away benign.”
Dr. Balsamo says that tumors can occur in any age group and almost any bone. There are approximately 800,000 new diagnoses of metastatic bone disease each year and about 4,000 new cases of bone cancer.
Symptoms vary depending on the condition. Benign bone tumors might not produce any symptoms while with other conditions, bone pain may occur. “Metastatic bone disease is usually painful and soft tissue sarcomas usually are pain free,” says Dr. Balsamo.
Some symptoms of benign or cancerous bone tumors can include:
- Swelling, tenderness or lumps near the site of pain
- Dull ache in the affected bone
- Weakened bone, leading to fracture with minor injury
- Unintended weight loss
In many cases, benign tumors can be monitored if they are not causing any symptoms. Surgical excision cures these conditions. Patients with sarcomas and bone cancers typically require a combination of therapies. Depending on the type of tumor, treatment options may include surgery to remove the tumor as well as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
“Surgeries can be small excisions of masses or large bone resections that require reconstruction with implants,” says Dr. Balsamo. “In all cases, the surgery is tailored to the patient.”
Dr. Balsamo works with each patient to develop a personalized treatment plan. He uses the most advanced surgical techniques available and works closely with other specialists throughout Sentara to provide a multidisciplinary approach to care.
Tumors of the musculoskeletal system can be complex and often require treatment by an orthopedic oncologist for the best possible outcomes. Dr. Balsamo’s unique training and expertise allows him to offer specialized care for the diagnosis and treatment of bone and soft tissue tumors for patients of all ages. To learn more, call 757-321-3300757-321-3300.