Ever since the first moment he can remember, eight-year-old Dominic Gamez was drawn to travel soccer. He felt strong and powerful as his legs carried him across the field; unified with his team, there was nothing better than scoring a goal and winning the game. However, Dominic’s soccer journey was interrupted when Dominic was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma. While this journey has not been easy, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) reports that an expandable prosthesis has helped enhance Dominic’s mobility and offered him some newfound freedom.
Last year, Dominic was having an especially active day—practicing for both soccer and martial arts—when his left leg began to ache. Within just a few days, that same leg was swollen. His mother took him to the pediatrician, who ordered X-rays and additional testing, as the pediatrician felt like Dominic might have a tumor or an infection in his leg.
Dominic underwent a biopsy, which confirmed the doctor’s suspicions. The boy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma; his tumor was eight inches long and took up over ⅔ of his total femur. His family knew that Dominic would have to begin treatment as soon as possible. They were presented with a number of options, including amputation, a femur allograft, or an implantable magnetic expandable prosthesis.
After careful consideration, they chose the latter. These expandable prostheses are personalized and customized for each particular patient. Using MRI and CT scan technology, doctors develop a specialized implant that not only fits in with the patient’s body but can lengthen the leg (or affected area) to match the patient’s normal growth. In addition to receiving the prosthesis, Dominic also underwent chemotherapy.
The prosthesis has given Dominic a new lease on life; he has found two new friends living with sarcoma and encourages them to stay strong. He has become a stronger self-advocate, asking questions at appointments and talking with doctors. Unfortunately, Dominic is unable to play soccer at this point—but hopes that in the future, he’ll find other sports that he can join in on.
Osteosarcoma: An Overview
As described above, osteosarcoma is a rare bone cancer that manifests in areas where the bone grows quickly (e.g. upper arm bone, shinbone, femur near the knee). The exact cause of osteosarcoma is unclear. In some cases, having a family history of osteosarcoma may increase the risk. It is also more common in children (and teenagers) facing growth spurts, and more common in males than females. Symptoms can include bone pain, limited joint motion, swelling and/or redness, and bone fractures without a known cause. There are a number of treatment options, but surgery and chemotherapy are typically used as the standards-of-care.