Johns Hopkins Pediatric Orthopaedics
Patient Guide to Osteochondroma

Johns Hopkins Pediatric Orthopaedic Physicians


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What is Osteochondroma?

The prefix, "osteo" means bone, "chondro" means cartilage, and the suffix, "oma" refers to a benign tumor. Therefore, an osteochondroma is a benign tumor made up of a mix between cartilage and bone. A tumor is an abnormal growth, but "benign" means that it does not travel to other places in the body and is not life threatening.

Where does an osteochondroma occur?

An osteochondroma occurs at any growth plate (a cartilage layer in the end of children's bones where growth occurs) in the body  and leads to a "bump" or "lobule" which grows on the surface of otherwise normal bone. The lesion basically results from a flaw in growth and can almost be thought of as a "birthmark" that you can't see from outside the body.

There is one condition called "multiple osteochondromatosis" in which a child can have many lesions at the same time. This is usually inherited.


Paul D. Sponseller. M.D. Division Chief


Michael C. Ain, M.D.


John E. Tis, M.D.


Ranjit Varghese, M.D.

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What are the symptoms of an osteochondroma?

What a child feels depends on the size and location of the tumor. In general, they are hard and are part of the bone. The only time that they cause pain is when nerves, muscles, tendons (the attachment of muscle to bone), or ligaments rub against them. This is more common in larger lesions. It is common to see one by accident on an x-ray that a physician orders for a unrelated reason. Many adults find out that they have had an osteochondroma during their whole life in this fashion.

How is an osteochondroma diagnosed?

In almost all cases, the tumor can be diagnosed using a x-ray. It has a very unique appearance on x-ray (a bony projection off a normal bone) which helps a physician know exactly what it is.

What is the treatment?

In general, an osteochondroma can be left alone unless a child is having a lot of pain or if the tumor is interfering with the child’s activities. The child should continue to be seen by a doctor, however, because a very small percentage of these (1%) can development into malignant tumors (that can grow and destroy normal tissue and travel to other places in the body).

Surgery as treatment:

Removing the lesion surgically is usually successful. This involves opening the skin over the tumor, locating the osteochondroma, and cutting it out. In cases of the inherited form where many lesions are present, new tumors may form in the same area. There is a very small chance (5%) that the tumor will come back after it is removed with surgery.

How will my child do in the long run with an osteochondroma?

Children usually do really well. If the tumor does not cause a lot of pain, it can be left alone for life. Also, it is important to note that an oteochondroma stops growing when a child reaches skeletal maturity (i.e. when he or she stops growing).

Colleen Cullen, CRNP
Kristen Venuti, CRNP
Peggy Wilckens, MMS, PA-C
Mary Teresa (Tresie) Yost, FNP-C

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