Chondroblastoma

Last revised by Dr Joachim Feger on 29 Jun 2022

Chondroblastomas are benign chondrogenic bone neoplasms characteristically arising in the epiphysis or apophysis of a long bone in young patients.

Despite being rare, they are one of the most frequently encountered benign epiphyseal neoplasms in skeletally immature patients 1.

ICD-O: 9230/0 Chondroblastoma NOS

Chondroblastomas represent <1% of all primary bone tumors 1,2 occurring predominantly in the immature skeleton of young patients in the second and early third decade (10-25years) with an overall male predilection 1-3.

The diagnosis of chondroblastomas is based on a combination of typical radiological and pathological features 1.

Diagnostic criteria according to the WHO classification of soft tissue and bone tumors (5thedition) 1:

Essential criteria are 1:

  • osteolytic bone tumor in an epiphyseal or apophyseal location
  • sheets of chondroblasts with interspersed osteoclastic giant cells and eosinophilic chondroid matrix

The following criteria are desirable 1:

  • network of pericellular chickenwire-calcifications
  • presence of H3.3 mutation either by H3-3A/H3-3B analysis or by p.Lys.36Met (K36M) expression

Clinical symptoms vary with the location of the tumor and include bone pain, local tenderness, joint effusion with stiffness and restricted motion or muscle atrophy 1-3.

Complications include 1-3:

Chondroblastomas are well-defined tumors composed of chondroblastic cells, islands of a chondroid matrix with a sclerotic rim. They usually show an eccentric position in the epiphyses and apophyses of long bones 1.

The etiology of chondroblastomas is not known 1.

Most chondroblastomas occur in the subchondral epiphyseal region of long bones such as the proximal or distal femur, the proximal tibia and proximal humerus 1-3. They can also occur in the talus, calcaneus, patella and pelvic bones e.g the acetabulum and less frequently affect the ribs the spine or small bones of hands and feet 1 or the craniofacial skeleton 2,3. They are usually confined to a single bone. 

Grossly chondroblastomas display the following features 1-3:

  • grayish-yellow appearance with hemorrhage
  • small calcifications often leading to a gritty and chalky cut surface
  • sharply demarcated from adjacent bone
  • aneurysmal bone cyst-like changes or areas of necrosis might be present

Histologically chondroblastomas are characterized by the following 1:

  • sheets of intermediate-sized chondroblastic ovoid to polygonal cells with eosinophilic cytoplasm
  • centrally placed nuclei often with longitudinal nuclear grooves (“coffee bean” nuclei)
  • possible cellular atypia and occasional mitoses
  • interspersed osteoclastic giant cells
  • islands of chondroid matrix
  • pericellular lace-like "chicken-wire calcification" (pathognomonic)
  • commonly aneurysmal bone-cyst-like changes

The presence of occasional giant multinucleated cells may lead to the incorrect diagnosis of a giant cell tumor.

On immunohistochemistry diffuse nuclear expression of p.Lys36Met (K36M), an antibody against H3.3B is characteristic 1.

Chondroblastomas are characterized by a p.Lys36Met substitution on the H3-3B (H3F3B) or less frequently H3-3A(H3F3A) genes 1.

Chondroblastomas are well-defined lytic bone lesions with geographical bone destruction and thin sclerotic margins. They are usually eccentric epiphyseal or apophyseal located adjacent to the growth plates 1-3. As they grow larger they can extend into the metaphyses. They might be associated with joint effusion.

Lesions are usually <5 cm on detection 1,3.

On plain radiographs chondroblastomas display the following characteristics 1,2:

  • radiolucent bone lesion
  • internal “fluffy” calcifications in about half of the cases
  • a narrow zone of transition
  • bone mineralization, trabeculation
  • endosteal scalloping, cortical thinning, cortical erosion  
  • expansile remodeling
  • rarely cortical breaches with soft tissue invasion
  • a periosteal reaction in a metadiaphyseal location 4
  • joint effusion (in up to one-third of patients)

Among epiphyseal lesions, the presence of solid or layered periosteal reaction distant to the lesion (involving the diaphysis) is distinctive for chondroblastoma 7.

On CT chondroblastomas are solitary lucent bone lesions. Features like internal calcifications, cortical involvement and cortical destruction can be more readily assessed than on plain radiography 7,8.

On MRI chondroblastomas usually demonstrate the following features 6-9:

  • lobular internal architecture
  • a thin hypointense sclerotic rim on T1 and T2 weighted images
  • surrounding bone marrow edema
  • cortical involvement
  • soft tissue edema
  • possible fluid-fluid levels in the presence of aneurysmal bone cyst-like changes
  • T1: intermediate signal
  • T2: variable, heterogeneous intermediate signal intensity
  • STIR: high signal
  • T1 C+: heterogeneous moderate enhancement together with enhancement of surrounding bone and soft-tissue edema

Chondroblastomas usually demonstrate increased radionuclide uptake 3 in the epiphysis and metaphysics, especially in the uninvolved bone adjacent to the chondroblastoma 7.

The radiological report should include a description of the following 10:

  • location and size
  • tumor margins and transition zone
  • relation to the growth plate and articular surface
  • cystic and solid tumor components
  • fluid-fluid levels suggesting aneurysmal bone cyst-like changes
  • additional features
    • cortical involvement
    • soft tissue extension
    • pathologic fracture
    • aggressive periosteal reaction
    • surrounding bone marrow edema
    • solid mass-like enhancement
    • associated joint effusion

On CT and MRI the lesion can be categorized as Bone-RADS 4 unless histology has been already obtained 10.

Chondroblastomas are benign tumors. Treatment typically consists of curettage and packing of the resulting cavity and with or without adjuvant therapy 1-3, 11-13. Radiofrequency ablation may be used 1,8,11.

Local recurrence is site-specific, higher in flat bones and can happen in up to 18% usually in an interval ranging from 6 months to 8 years 1,2.

Treatment may be also complicated by growth plate injury, which can lead to growth arrest and limb length discrepancy 8.

Benign lung metastases are exceptionally rare 1-3.

A chondroblastoma has been described as a cartilage-containing tumor by Kolodny in 1927 3,4 and as a “calcifying giant cell tumor” by Ewing in 1928 2,4.

In 1931 this lesion was described by the American physician Ernest Armory Codman (1869-1940) as an ‘epiphyseal chondromatous giant cell tumor of the proximal humerus’ of whom it adopted the name Codman tumor 2,3,14.

In 1942 the American pathologists Henry Louis Jaffe (1896-1979) and Louis Lichtenstein (1906-1977) designated this tumor as a benign chondroblastoma of bone 15.

The differential is that of other lesions with a predilection for the epiphysis or apophysis (see differential for an epiphyseal lesion). Specific lesions to be considered include 2,3,16:

The presence of bone marrow edema frequently seen surrounding chondroblastomas is helpful, as it is not a standard feature of chondromyxoid fibromas, giant cell tumors or enchondromas 8.

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: illustration - distribution
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  • Case 1
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  • Case 2
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  • Case 3
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  • Case 4
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  • Case 5
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  • Case 6
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  • Case 7
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  • Case 8
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  • Case 9: chondroblastoma of scapula
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  • Case 10
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  • Case 11
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  • Case 12: medial femoral condyle
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