Bone -

Giant cell tumour of bone

This article was last reviewed and updated on January 17, 2019
by Bibianna Purgina, MD FRCPC

Quick facts:

  • Giant cell tumour of bone is a common type of bone tumour.

  • Most giant cell tumours are non-cancerous although a small number will behave like a cancer.

  • The tumour damages the bone which can cause the bone to break.

Learn more

Bones are a special type of tissue that provide our body with support and protection. In total there are 206 bones in our body. Some bones (like the bones in our fingers) are very small while other bones (like the bone in our upper leg) are very big.

Normal bones develop when special cells called osteoblasts produce a substance called osteoid which is initially soft but becomes hard over time as minerals (such as calcium) are added to it. Osteoid that is still soft is called ‘immature’ bone while mineralized hard osteoid is called ‘mature’ bone.

Giant cell tumour of bone is common tumor that can start in almost any bone in the body.  Although most giant cell tumours of bone are non-cancerous (benign), they are aggressive at their site and can lead to a fracture or break of the bone. 


Sometimes, giant cell tumours of bone may grow beyond the bone and involve the surrounding tissues such as the muscle.  Very rarely, giant cell tumour of bone may be cancerous (malignant). Giant cell tumour of bone usually involves the ends of a bone.

Giant cell tumour is made up of two kinds of cells, mononuclear cells (cells with a single nucleus) and osteoclast-like giant cells (cells with more than one nucleus). Your pathologist will look for both of these types of cells when examining your tissue sample under the microscope.

Giant cell tumour of bone typically affects young adults.  Giant cell tumours of bone are typically diagnosed after a small sample of tissue is removed in a procedure called a biopsy

After the pathologist makes a diagnosis of giant cell of tumour of bone, the patient is often treated with surgery, but may receive a medication called Denosumab prior to the surgery. The tumour is then removed completely as a resection specimen and sent to pathology for examination and to confirm the diagnosis.

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