Osteosarcoma: Warning signs, treatments and prognosis

Dr. Joshua Kain, an otolaryngologist with Houston Methodist, said the rare cancer is often caught with X-rays during yearly dental cleanings.

HOUSTON — Doctors in the Texas Medical Center are shedding more light on the type of bone cancer Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was treated for over the summer.

During the annual State of the City event on Wednesday, Mayor Turner revealed he underwent treatment for osteosarcoma.

Mayor Turner said the bone cancer was discovered in his jaw during the summer when he went to the dentist for a root canal.

Next came a biopsy, surgery, and six weeks of radiation, all while continuing to lead city council meetings.

RELATED: Mayor Turner diagnosed with bone cancer over the summer

“Went through radiation for six weeks, every single morning, Monday through Friday, 7:30, Aug. 1 through Sept 12,” Mayor Turner said. “Back at city council that day, continue to do what I needed to do for the City of Houston.”

Dr. Andrew Huang, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology with Baylor College of Medicine, said osteosarcoma typically affects younger patients and is very rare, with just a few hundred cases per year.

Dr. Huang said patients usually can’t tell the cancer is there because it forms inside the bone, often in larger ones like the femur.

“It’s actually a good thing when you see a dentist with a vague complaint and they catch something like this early, get it diagnosed early, because it’s less advanced,” Dr. Huang said.

Dr. Joshua Kain, an otolaryngologist with Houston Methodist, said the cancer is  often caught with X-rays during yearly dental cleanings.

“There will be areas noticed that have low bone density, and this will lead to subsequent referrals for biopsies and to get tissue samples that can then confirm the diagnosis,” Dr. Kain said.

He said a six-week radiation treatment like the mayor got is typically the only treatment.

KHOU asked both doctors about general prognosis for osteosarcoma patients.

“It’s usually, early, about five-year overall survival of 50 to 70 percent,” Dr. Huang said.

“But with good treatment and good surgical results and good radiation results, these can even be curable,” Dr. Kain said.

Both the mayor and his staff declined to elaborate on his prognosis. However, Mayor Turner did say he plans to finish out his term that runs through December 31, 2023.

Both doctors said to look out for the following warning signs that you should see a doctor:

  • Changes in the shape of your jaw
  • Painful areas in the mouth that don’t heal or that bleed
  • Areas where the teeth are loosened and the gum lining has changed
  • Areas of an ulcer that doesn’t go away over several weeks


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