Both osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma show sharp peaks in incidence coinciding with growth spurts during adolescence. This suggests that this rapid bone growth creates a vulnerable period when cells are more likely to become malignant (cancerous). However, the path for a normal cell to become a malignant cell is a multi-step process, and so the malignant changes that occur to cells during this growth spurt are almost certainly preceded by earlier changes.

This research project, carried out by Professor Jillian Birch, was a ‘pilot-study’. A pilot-study is carried out in order to obtain some preliminary data that allows a researcher to decide whether to continue and create a plan for a larger scale, main study, to take place. The aim of the main study, in this case, was to identify internal (e.g. genetic) factors and external environmental factors (e.g. viruses, diet, exercise or radiation) which bring about changes in cells which eventually lead to cancer formation in Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma tumours. Professor Jillian Birch set out to investigate this in relation to particularly vulnerable periods of development in a young person's life (i.e growth spurts during adolescence) in the hope to spot any preventable periods or changes.

Due to rarity of osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma tumours, the pilot study was set out across 2 centres, Manchester and Leeds, to conduct interviews with patients between the ages of 0 and 24 years (interviews were carried out on those over 16years) and mothers and fathers of patients. As well as interviewing participants, the research team also collected samples of blood or saliva and any relevant medical records with the participants consent to be analysed.

What did this pilot-study find?

Although the information from this study does not provide exact answers on the cause of primary bone cancer, it does provide crucial information on the likely proportion of cases and their parents that can be recruited, the likelihood that families will consent to give samples to be genetically analysed and the availability and completeness of relevant medical records for patients taking part in the study. All this information is essential to enable Professor Birch to work out how many participating countries, centres and patients are required for a full, larger-scale study. Information from this pilot study enables the final study plans to be developed and any possible issues or hold-backs to be identified and rectified before rolling this study out on a larger scale.

This project was funded in 2008

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