Osteosarcoma: Even Dinosaurs Had Bone Cancer


What do you call fossils that just lie there? Lazy bones! But for the Centrosaurus apertus, its bones are talking to us from beyond the grave, making it less lazy and more fascinating for medical science. According to Science Alert, researchers recently discovered the first ever confirmed case of osteosarcoma in dinosaurs. That’s right, examining a 76 million year old shinbone from the herbivorous Centrosaurus apertus highlights how bone cancers have always been present throughout evolutionary history. See the full findings in The Lancet Oncology.

Bone Cancer in Dinosaurs

At first glance, researchers believed that the shinbone showed signs of a fracture, one that hadn’t healed well. But as they dug a little deeper into their analysis, they arrived at a shocking conclusion: osteosarcoma. The tumor covered the entire upper fibula. While osteosarcoma is rare, it is still the most common human bone cancer. However, osteosarcoma has never before been found in dinosaurs.

In part this is due to the length of time between now and when dinosaurs walked the earth. In many cases, cancer occurs in soft tissue. As a result, there is no way to determine whether other forms of cancer outside of bone cancer existed heavily in the dinosaur population. There have been other instances where bone cancer was hypothesized to be the cause, such as lesions on hadrosaur vertebrae. However, the Centrosaurus’ bone cancer is much clearer to researchers.

Originally, the bone was recovered in Dinosaur Park Formation in 1989. When recently analyzed, researchers used a CT scanner to identify how the osteosarcoma spread through the bone. Eventually, researchers determined that the dinosaur had a severe, aggressive, and long-lasting case of cancer. They note:

“A similarly advanced osteosarcoma in a human patient, left untreated, would certainly be fatal.”

Based on where the bone was discovered, alongside numerous other Centrosaurus bones, researchers believe that this particular dinosaur was protected by its herd. Otherwise, the cancer would have left the dinosaur too vulnerable to predators.


Sometimes known as osteogenic sarcoma, osteosarcoma is an aggressive bone cancer. It occurs in areas of quickly growing bones, such as the femur and shinbone. As a result, teens going through growth spurts are more heavily affected. Males are more at risk of developing osteosarcoma than females. Unfortunately, the cause is still unknown.

Symptoms vary in severity based on tumor location. However, they may include:

  • Limping
  • Bone pain
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Joint stiffness
  • Bone fractures

Learn more about osteosarcoma here.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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