What is an enchondroma?
An enchondroma is a benign (not cancerous) tumor in the cartilage inside of your bones. An enchondroma generally doesn’t cause any pain or other symptoms. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even know it was there. Enchondromas are usually found incidentally when you’re getting X-rays for an unrelated condition or injury. Enchondromas can occur at any age but typically develop between the ages of 10 and 40.
Can I get multiple enchondromas?
Most of the time, you’ll only have a single enchondroma. Rarely, multiple enchondromas can develop. These usually occur in conditions such as Ollier disease or Maffucci syndrome.
What parts of my body can an enchondroma affect?
Enchondromas develop in the cartilage in the center of your bones. Enchondromas are frequently found in the small long bones of your hands and feet. They’re the most common tumor found in the hand. Enchondromas can also develop in your body’s long bones, which include:
- Your femur (thigh bone).
- Your tibia (shin bone).
- Your humerus (upper arm bone).
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of an enchondroma?
An enchondroma usually doesn’t cause any pain or other symptoms. You normally wouldn’t even know it was there. If you have multiple enchondromas in your hands or feet, your bones can weaken. This can cause deformities or enlargement of your fingers. People with Ollier disease or Maffucci syndrome may have severe bone deformities, which cause pain.
What causes an enchondroma?
Researchers aren’t sure of the exact cause of enchondromas. Some researchers think they may develop when cells in your body turn into cartilage instead of bone. Researchers don’t think environmental factors like radiation or chemical exposure cause enchondromas.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is an enchondroma diagnosed?
Enchondromas are usually found incidentally when you’re getting routine X-rays for another injury or condition. If you’re having pain or other symptoms, your healthcare provider will want to do a physical exam. They’ll ask you questions about your pain. Your healthcare provider may also request imaging tests such as:
- X-rays: X-rays provide images of your bones. Enchondromas show up as small, dark spots in the center of your bones. They contain white spots with patterns of rings and arcs. These spots mean the tumor contains cartilage.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: These scans give your healthcare provider a more complete picture of your tumor. They can show bone erosion, inflammation and masses.
- Bone scan: Your healthcare provider injects radioactive dye into your body through a vein. This nuclear imaging test lights up the tumors in your bones.
Management and Treatment
How is an enchondroma treated?
Usually, if an enchondroma isn’t causing any pain, it doesn’t need to be treated. Your healthcare provider will continue to track it to see if it grows. They may monitor you with additional X-rays or other tests.
Multiple enchondromas can weaken your bones and cause fractures. If this occurs, your healthcare provider may want to remove the tumors. Your surgeon may recommend:
- Curettage: With a curettage, your surgeon will scrap the tumors out of your bone. Enchondromas typically don’t return once your surgeon removes them. If the enchondromas have caused a bone fracture, your surgeon may wait until your fracture has healed before performing the curettage.
- Bone graft: After your surgeon performs the curettage, they may fill the bone cavity with a bone graft to stabilize your bone. A bone graft is bone taken from another bone in your body or from a donor’s bone. Sometimes, your surgeon may use an artificial substance.
How long will it take to recover from an enchondroma surgery?
Recovery time will depend on your condition and the timing of treatment. If you don’t have a fracture associated with your enchondroma, recovery from surgery should take about three weeks. If you have a fracture, it may take closer to seven weeks to recover.
If you have a fracture and have surgery right away, recovery from surgery should take about one month. If you have a fracture but delay surgery, recovery will take closer to two and a half months.
Outlook / Prognosis
What's the prognosis for an enchondroma?
If you have an enchondroma that isn’t causing you any pain, it usually doesn’t have to be removed. If you’ve had a single enchondroma removed from your hand or foot, your prognosis is good. Enchondromas typically don’t return once your surgeon removes them.
You have a higher risk of enchondromas returning in your femur, tibia and humerus. People who have multiple enchondromas have a higher risk of the tumors becoming malignant. Malignant cartilage tumors require immediate removal.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is an enchondroma treated?
If an enchondroma isn’t causing you any pain, it usually doesn’t need to be treated. If you have multiple enchondromas or if an enchondroma is causing you pain, your healthcare provider will typically recommend surgery to remove them. Multiple enchondromas can weaken your bones and cause fractures.
Can an enchondroma grow?
Enchondromas can grow and compress healthy bone tissue. However, most enchondromas are benign. Benign cartilage tumors usually don’t spread or destroy bone tissue. They’re rarely life-threatening.
Are enchondromas hereditary?
There’s no evidence of genetic inheritance in body cells that form enchondroma tumors.
What's the difference between an enchondroma and a chondrosarcoma?
An enchondroma is a benign (not cancerous) tumor. Sometimes, enchondromas can change into malignant (cancerous) tumors. A malignant cartilage tumor is called a chondrosarcoma. If you have just one enchondroma, this change is very rare. People who have multiple enchondromas have a higher risk of the tumors becoming malignant. Chondrosarcomas require immediate removal.
Can chondrosarcoma be cured?
Nearly all low-grade (slow-growing) chondrosarcoma tumors are cured by scraping the tumor out of your bone (curettage) and killing the surface tumor cells embedded in the bone. Low-grade tumors are less likely to spread (metastasize).
High-grade (fast-growing) chondrosarcoma tumors are aggressive and are more likely to spread. High-grade chondrosarcoma tumors need to be completely removed without cutting into your tumor. If your surgeon cuts into your tumor, cancer cells can spill. If these cells spill, there’s a risk of the cancer returning.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Finding out you have a tumor can be alarming — whether it’s benign (not cancerous) or not. However, most enchondromas don’t cause any pain and don’t have to be removed. If your healthcare provider recommends removal, keep in mind that most enchondromas are low-grade. Once removed, you should have no problem returning to work or getting back to your normal activities.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy