Enchondroma is a type of tumor that affects cartilage in the body’s extremities and most often affects teenagers. The tumor is usually benign and can sometimes remain throughout the life of the patient without adverse effects. However, it is possible that an enchondroma can become malignant, and this transition is notoriously difficult to diagnose – even for experts using state-of-the-art equipment.
Causes and Symptoms of Enchondroma
Enchondroma is not caused by environmental factors, and most physicians believe the cause of the disease lies in the genes of the patients. The benign tumors can remain undetected for many years, as the symptoms do not include any pain. This is why the disease is most often diagnosed after an x-ray is taken for other purposes. An x-ray is usually sufficient in order to correctly identify the disease. However, sometimes additional imaging techniques, such as computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance (MR) and bone scans can be useful in determining the best course of action.
It is important to diagnose the disease correctly and differentiate between the benign and malignant variety. The malignant version of enchondroma (chondrosarcoma) is often associated with a degree of pain. It is particularly important to draw a distinction between pain that is experienced at rest or during movement. Pain that is present without movement is more serious, as it implies a later stage of chondrosarcoma.
If left untreated enchondroma can cause distortions in the bone structure of the hands and feet, as well as a propensity for fracture and injury. The best type of treatment is debatable, and can vary greatly among physicians. Sometimes, small and benign tumors do not need to be surgically removed, as they are unlikely to cause deformation or further complications. However, when the tumor is sufficiently aggressive to cause frequent fractures, they are usually excised in order to prevent further injury. The general consensus amongst bone surgeons is that biopsies cause more problems than they solve in the diagnosis of enchondroma. This is because it is notoriously difficult to differentiate between benign and malignant tumors from a biopsy. Furthermore, the removal of a sample bone diseases via biopsy can drag cancerous tissue across healthy tissue, causing contamination.
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