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Giant Cell Tumor

What is a giant cell tumor?

Giant cell tumor of bone is a rare, fast-growing non-cancer tumor. It most often grows in adults between ages 20 and 40 when skeletal bone growth is done. It is slightly more common in women.

It usually grows near a joint at the end of the bone. The location of a giant cell tumor is often in the knee, but can also grow in the bones of the arms and the legs. It can also affect the flat bones, such as the breastbone or pelvis.

What causes giant cell tumors?

The exact cause of giant cell tumors is not known. But in some cases, they have been linked to Paget disease of bone. This is a chronic bone disorder in which bones become enlarged and misshapen.

What are the symptoms of a giant cell tumor?

Below are the most common symptoms of a giant cell tumor. But each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • A visible bump

  • Bone fracture

  • Fluid buildup in the joint nearest the affected bone

  • Limited movement in the nearest joint

  • Swelling

  • Pain at the nearest joint

The symptoms of a giant cell tumor may look like other health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a giant cell tumor diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and give you a physical exam. You may also have tests such as:

  • Biopsy. A small sample of tissue is taken and test. This is usually needed to confirm diagnosis.

  • Radionuclide bone scans. This is a nuclear imaging test. It can show any degenerative or arthritic changes in the joints, find bone diseases and tumors, and find the cause of bone pain or inflammation. This test helps to rule out any infection or fractures.

  • X-rays. This is a test that uses a small amount of radiation to make images of tissues, bones, and organs on film

  • CT scan. This is a test that uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the tissues in the body.

  • MRI. This is a test that uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of tissues in the body. This test can also rule out any problems of the spinal cord and nerves.

How is a giant cell tumor treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

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

  • Surgery to remove the tumor and any damaged bone

  • Bone grafting

  • Bone reconstruction

  • Physical therapy to regain strength and mobility

  • Amputation, in severe cases

Tumors that can’t be removed with surgery can often be controlled and sometimes destroyed with radiation therapy.

Giant cell tumors can come back. Follow-up with your healthcare provider may be needed for several years.

Key points about giant cell tumors

  • A giant cell tumor is a rare, aggressive non-cancerous tumor. It usually grows near a joint at the end of the bone. Most occur in the long bones of the legs and arms.

  • Giant cell tumors most often occur in young adults when skeletal bone growth is complete.

  • The exact cause of giant cell tumors remains unknown.

  • Symptoms may include joint pain, swelling, and limited movement.

  • Diagnostic tests may include X-rays, biopsy, and bone scans.

  • The goal for treatment of a giant cell tumor is often to remove the tumor and prevent damage to the affected bone.

  • Tumors that can’t be removed surgically can often be controlled and sometimes destroyed with radiation therapy.

  • Giant cell tumors can come back.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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