Giant Cell Tumor

By | June 8, 2022

A giant cell tumor is a tumor on the bone. The giant cell tumor is also synonymous with the medical term osteoclastoma. The dignity of the tumor is not clear in the majority of cases. The name of the giant cell tumor is derived from its typical appearance visible under the microscope. This is where large cells with multiple nuclei, called giant cells, appear.

What is a giant cell tumor?

The origin of the giant cell tumor lies in those cells that are located between the giant cells. These cells show similarities to fibroblasts. In some cases, the giant cell tumor on the bone is confused with a tumor on the tendon sheaths, which is also characterized by giant cells. For hypocalcemia guide, please visit

In fact, however, there are two completely different diseases. The degree of malignancy of the tumor can be determined based on the mitoses and cells with pathological properties. A giant cell tumor often occurs in the so-called epiphyses, which are located inside the long bones.

The tumor is characterized by aggressive growth behavior, which is why it is also considered a semi-malignant disease. The giant cell tumor often occurs near the knee joint, the proximal humerus or the distal radius. Approximately every 7th tumor on the bones that is benign in character is a giant cell tumor.


According to the current state of medical science, the causes that lead to the formation of giant cell tumors have not yet been fully clarified. Although there are various theories about potential reasons for the development of the tumor, no reliable statements have been made so far. However, several studies and research projects are working to clarify the causes of giant cell tumors.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

A giant cell tumor is associated with various symptoms and symptoms, which differ depending on the individual case. For example, the disease causes pain and swelling in the affected area. Pathological fractures are also possible, which are favored by the giant cell tumor.

In the majority of cases, giant cell tumors form in the limbs. The tumors appear on the trunk in only 25 percent of cases. If giant cell tumors occur on the extremities, they are usually limited to the epiphysis of the large tubular bones. They represent one of the most common non-malignant types of bone tumors.

Due to their localization in the epiphysis, they very often occur near the joints, for example at the knee joint. In the majority of cases, adolescent patients or young adults develop this particular type of bone tumor. It is often a long time before the giant cell tumor is discovered.

This is because giant cell tumors generally grow very slowly, even if they are aggressive forms. They also do not cause pain in many people. In addition, giant cell tumors only rarely lead to the formation of metastases in other areas of the body. However, giant cell tumors often grow into the surrounding tissue.

It is also typical that giant cell tumors tend to recur after surgical removal. Basically, the individual symptoms are strongly dependent on the respective localization of the giant cell tumor. Pain in the joints is possible, with some mobility being impaired. Also, in some cases, effusions occur in nearby joints.

Diagnosis & course of disease

There are a number of diagnostic options available to diagnose giant cell tumors. It is at the discretion of the attending physician to decide on their use. Before clinical examinations are conducted, the doctor analyzes the patient’s medical history.

X-ray examinations, magnetic resonance imaging and a biopsy are then possible. As a rule, imaging methods are always used. The X-ray examination shows so-called osteolytic areas, which indicate the giant cell tumor. The tumor leads to an expansion of the affected bone, and soft tissue infiltration may also occur.


Giant cell tumors are usually benign. Malignant, severe courses that lead to death very rarely occur. However, the tumor can grow aggressively locally and affect the affected bone tissue. This causes the bones to expand, which can often lead to joint pain with limited mobility, swelling, bone fractures, and effusions in adjacent joints.

Since the giant cell tumor is usually benign but can cause local destruction of the bone structure, it is also sometimes referred to as a semi-malignant tumor. The local destruction of the bones can cause severe movement restrictions, which can sometimes only be treated with the use of artificial joints.

To prevent these long-term consequences, treatment should be carried out early. As part of the therapy, the tumor is removed by curettage (removal) of the bone. However, a recurrence can occur in about 25 percent of cases. The giant cell tumor may also form metastases in the lungs. In contrast to most other types of cancer, even the metastases here are benign.

The development of lung metastases is very rare. Metastases in other organs are observed even more rarely. As already mentioned, the tumor usually only develops its destructive power locally. Nevertheless, in individual cases the tumor can also degenerate and turn into a malignant sarcoma. In these few cases, the prognosis is very poor.

When should you go to the doctor?

If swelling, limited mobility, and repeated fractures occur, a giant cell tumor may be the underlying cause. Medical help is needed if the symptoms do not go away or even get worse. If severe pain or a broken bone occurs, it is important to consult a doctor immediately.

People who have typical risk factors such as an unhealthy diet, consumption of nicotine or a weakened immune system must take advantage of regular check-ups. If the symptoms mentioned occur in connection with a predisposition, a speedy visit to the doctor is recommended.

The giant cell tumor is clarified by the family doctor or an orthopedist. Depending on the symptoms, dermatologists, internists and oncologists can also be consulted. The treatment is inpatient in a hospital. The doctor will then call in various physiotherapists and, if necessary, alternative medicine professionals to support the patient in the follow-up care. If similar symptoms reappear after recovery, the doctor must be informed in order to clarify complications such as recurrence or permanent bone damage.

Treatment & Therapy

A giant cell tumor can be treated with various measures. Basically, the treatment depends on the age of the patient and their medical history. Often either a resection or curettage is performed, with the affected area being filled with bone cement.

In some cases it is necessary to replace or reconstruct the diseased joint. Physiotherapy sessions are generally prescribed following surgical interventions in order to regain mobility and muscle strength. As a rule, follow-up care lasting several years is necessary in order to quickly identify possible recurrences.

In some cases, chemical agents such as phenol are also used to eliminate all tumor cells. Very rarely, in less than five percent of all affected people, metastasis occurs in connection with the giant cell tumor. In the majority of cases, this affects the lungs.


With regard to effective measures and methods for the prevention of giant cell tumors, no reliable statements can be made according to the current state of medical and pharmaceutical science. This is primarily due to the fact that so far too little is known about the causes of the development of giant cell tumors.

In many cases, giant cell tumors show no or only weak symptoms for a long time and are therefore often recognized late. It is therefore important that complaints are resolved quickly.


The localization of the giant cell tumor influences the necessary follow-up care. Giant cell tumors mainly occur in epiphyseal regions. This means that they are close to the joint or penetrate into the joint. In 50 percent of the diseases, the tumor occurs in the knee region. The surgical removal of the diseased bone and joint substance therefore usually results in a restriction of mobility.

Physiotherapy is usually prescribed to increase mobility after surgery and strengthen muscles. Giant cell tumors have a 25 percent recurrence rate. A careful and regular follow-up by a doctor over several years is therefore indicated. If the removed bone substance was filled with bone cement, this can be replaced during aftercare.

This is possible if the course has been monitored over several years and the risk of a recurrence is assessed as low. The patient himself can also take measures that have a positive influence on the course of the disease. This includes careful self-observation. If symptoms similar to those of the initial illness recur, he should see a doctor. A healthy lifestyle is advisable to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. The patient should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and sufficiently and avoid mental stress.

You can do that yourself

A giant cell tumor can often be surgically removed. The patient must first and foremost take into account the medical requirements regarding diet, rest and medication. It is also important not to lift heavy loads in the days after an operation. If the operation is successful, a speedy recovery is likely, provided the tumor has not yet spread.

To ensure this, medical follow-ups must be used and physical warning signals must be clarified. An active lifestyle with sufficient exercise and a balanced diet reduces the risk of disease. Corresponding changes also improve the quality of life and thus mental health, which is usually affected after a tumor disease.

Counseling sessions and participation in a self-help group also help. Giant cell tumors promise a good prognosis if they are detected early. Therefore, the focus of treatment is on regular check-ups.

Patients who experience bleeding or pain as a result of surgery should consult their doctor and tell them about the discomfort and symptoms. The same applies to unusual pain in other parts of the body. If there is a suspicion that a recurrence has formed, medical advice is also required.

Giant Cell Tumor