An enchondroma is a benign tumor that appears in the cartilage tissue found inside a bone. In most cases, enchondromas are painless and do not result in any adverse physical symptoms. When a tumor is unusually large or when multiple tumors are present, however, a person can suffer from a bone fracture or deformity. Enchondramas are most likely to appear in the small bones of the hands or feet, though they can potentially affect any area of the body. Treatment is rarely required, and the most common procedure involves surgically cutting away the tumor and repairing the damaged bone tissue.
Doctors are uncertain why enchondromas appear, but they may be a result of embryonic cartilage that keeps growing within an already developed bone. They are most common in children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 20, and appear to occur at about the same rate in males and females. An enchondroma is usually painless and goes undetected, unless a doctor notices it while performing diagnostic tests for other injuries or conditions.
A tumor can occasionally grow large enough to put pressure on a bone and cause it to fracture. Constant pressure from an enchondroma can also lead to deformities in the hands or feet. Sometimes, multiple enchondromas are present within a single bone in a condition known as Ollier's disease. Maffucci's syndrome is a similar condition where bone cartilage tumors are accompanied blood vessel tumors. Both Ollier's disease and Maffucci's syndrome can cause chronic pain, fractures, and deformities.
If a doctor suspects that an enchondroma is responsible for a bone fracture or deformity, he or she will usually take x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, or other imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis. When MRI or x-ray results reveal an enchondroma, the physician will decide on the best treatment measures based on the size, location, and number of tumors. It is important for doctors to carefully investigate bone tumors to make sure they do not show signs of cancerous conditions.
Surgery to set broken or deformed bones is usually enough to prevent future ill effects of small enchondromas. A large tumor is usually removed in a delicate surgical procedure that involves scraping away the enchondroma with a scalpel and grafting new tissue onto the bone. Patients are usually required to return to the doctor's office following surgical procedures for regular MRI scans to monitor bone healing. It is very rare for a tumor to reappear, though a person with one enchondroma may have other undetected tumors in different parts of the body.