Bone Sarcoma Diagnostic Tools and Tests

Our cancer specialists at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center are highly experienced in using the most advanced techniques for diagnosing bone sarcomas and are actively researching for better and more precise ways to detect bone cancer.

If bone cancer is suspected, your physician may order tests or a series of tests including:


If a suspicious bone lesion or soft tissue mass is found, a sample of the area may be removed and viewed under a microscope.

Types of biopsies include:

  • Needle biopsy. This is the most common method of diagnosis used at Penn. A radiologist uses a hollow needle to remove a small sample of the tumor. This may be done with or without an ultrasound or a CT scan to help guide the needle.
  • Core needle biopsy. A physician uses a large, hollow needle to remove a small piece of the tumor. 
  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. This type of biopsy removes fluid and cells from the tumor in a syringe.
  • Surgical biopsy. It is very important that this type of biopsy be performed only by an expert in bone tumors. In a surgical biopsy, the surgeon exposes the tumor through an incision and removes a piece of the tumor. This is less frequently performed now that needle biopsy is the most common method of diagnosis.
  • Pathology and molecular tests. This includes testing of the tumor via biopsy sample.

Diagnostic Imaging Tests

Pictures of the inside of the body can help find out whether a suspicious area might be cancerous, to learn how far cancer may have spread, and to help determine if treatment is working.

Diagnostic imaging tests for bone sarcomas include:

  • Bone X-ray
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Chest X-ray
  • Bone scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

Laboratory Tests

A series of laboratory tests may need to be done to diagnose bone cancer. This includes testing of the tumor via biopsy sample, and blood tests, which may aid other diagnostic tools.

Medical History and Physical Exam

Your physician will assess your medical history and give you a complete physical examination. During the examination, your doctor will look and feel for a tumor or mass around the bone.