Osteoma: Diagnosis, Causes, Outlook, and More

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD

An osteoma, a noncancerous tumor on the bones, rarely causes symptoms, but it can result in pain and functional difficulties. Surgery and therapies may help treat the condition. Though researchers have not confirmed the cause of osteomas, injury, and inflammation may be involved.

Depending on the symptoms, osteomas can be treated with pain relief medication, surgery, or radiofrequency.

This article discusses the types, symptoms, and causes of osteoma. It also explains the diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for osteoma.

Types

Someone bends down to feel the bone on their shin.
Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United

There are three main types Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of osteoma tumor:

  • Compact type: These are osteomas that have a dense, compact structure.
  • Cancellous or spongy type: These osteomas have a spongy or porous structure.
  • Mixed type: These have the features of both compact and cancellous osteomas.

Clinicians may also differentiate osteomas based on what part of the bone they affect, for example:

  • Peripheral osteoma: These osteomas develop on the outer periosteum, a membrane that covers the outer surface of all bones except the joints. Most osteomas are peripheral.
  • Central osteoma: These develop on the endosteum, a thin membrane found inside the bones.
  • Extraskeletal soft osteoma: These form within the muscles and other soft tissues. One example is osteoma cutis, an osteoma in which bone tissue develops within the skin.

Symptoms 

Most osteomas are asymptomatic and slow-growing. You could find out you have an osteoma after a diagnostic test for another condition or a general checkup.

Some people do experience symptoms, such as: 

  • pain
  • swelling
  • nerve compression 
  • functional difficulties, such as:
    • hearing or vision problems 
    • difficulty moving or using the affected area

Some people may notice a visible or palpable lump or growth that may feel hard. For example, if you have an osteoma on the skull, you may have a hard lump on top of the head that feels like bone.

Symptoms can also depend on the tumor size, location, and growth direction. For example, osteoid osteomas, which develop in the long bones of the body, may cause pain mainly at night Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

Below are some additional examples of osteoma locations and their possible symptoms:

Osteoma locationPossible symptoms
skull or forehead osteomapain
headache
swelling
changes in facial shape
eye osteomapain
headache
swelling
changes in facial shape
sinus osteomapain
headache
swelling
nasal discharge
sinus obstruction and infection
jaw osteomapain or difficulty when moving the jaw
changes in facial shape
long bone (osteoid) osteoma, such as in the legs or armsswelling
changes in walking and movement
joint pain
differences in limb length and shape

Osteomas may be more common in the paranasal sinuses and rare in the jaw.

Pictures

Below are some example images of osteomas:

A medical image of an osteoma.

An advanced osteoma may cause a visible, palpable lump or change.

© 2017 The Korean Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association/NCBI

A medical image of a CT scan showing an osteoma.

An osteoma can be seen via a CT scan.

James Heilman, MD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor promptly if you have severe, persistent, or recurrent osteoma symptoms, including persistent swelling or changes in shape.

Also, if other symptoms of illness or pain do not improve, contact your doctor.

Causes

Osteomas occur when bone cells multiply and grow uncommonly. However, clinicians are unsure why this happens.

Some researchers suggest that the following may contribute Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to the development of osteoma:

Still, further research is needed to confirm how these factors may relate to osteoma.

Some cases of osteoma also occur with Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source Gardner syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes multiple atypical growths in the colon.

Read more about Gardner syndrome, including its symptoms and treatment.

Osteoma can occur at any age, but it may most commonly affects people ages 30–50 years old Trusted Source Wiley Peer reviewed journal Go to source . Also, osteoma may occur more frequently in people assigned male at birth.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.

A doctor can then recommend a CT scan. This can help determine the size and location of the tumor and see whether the tumor may have affected the structures surrounding the affected bone. This can also help rule out other causes and types of lesions.

Treatment

Treatment plans can vary. For instance, treatment may be Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source necessary only if you have symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, your doctor may recommend watchful waiting. This is when your doctor monitors the progression and behavior of your condition over time before using another treatment.

If you do have symptoms, your doctor may recommend endoscopic resection. This involves passing an endoscope and other instruments through the nostrils into the skull to remove the osteoma. 

Other treatments include:

  • Endoscopic resection: This passes a thin tubelike instrument known as an endoscope into the body to help remove the osteoma.
  • Open surgery: A surgeon will make incisions and remove the osteoma.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: This uses radio waves to shrink the osteoma tumor.

Doctors may also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription pain medications to help ease pain and swelling. Always consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking OTC medications or supplements.

Read more about endoscopy, including its procedure and preparation.

Complications and outlook

Osteomas are noncancerous and grow slowly, meaning they can have a favorable prognosis — mainly if you receive effective treatment. A 2022 overview suggests that surgical removal can cure Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the condition.

Also, clinicians believe osteomas have no chance of becoming cancerous, according to the same 2022 overview. However, in some cases, osteoma cutis may occur Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source as a secondary effect of underlying skin cancer.

Osteomas can also cause complications for some people, including:

  • bone deformity
  • muscle loss or wastage (dystrophy)
  • mobility problems
  • changes in appearance
  • pain
  • infection

The chance of experiencing complications can depend on individual factors. Contact your doctor for advice.

FAQ

Angelica Balingit, M.D., has reviewed the following frequently asked questions.

Can osteomas become cancerous?

According to a 2022 overview, osteomas do not become Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source cancerous. There have also been no recorded cases Trusted Source Wiley Peer reviewed journal Go to source of osteomas becoming cancerous.

Does an osteoma keep growing?

Osteomas may continue to grow without treatment. Effective treatment can stop this growth and, in some cases, cure osteoma.

How do you get rid of an osteoma without surgery?

Your doctor may be able to use radiofrequency ablation to treat an osteoma. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat to destroy a tumor.

Summary

Osteoma is a noncancerous tumor that forms on the bones.

Though many cases of osteoma may not cause symptoms, some people experience health effects. Osteoma symptoms can include pain, difficulty moving or using the affected area, and swelling.

Treatments for osteoma include pain relief and monitoring, surgery, and radiofrequency. With effective treatment, the outlook for osteoma can be positive.

Contact your doctor promptly if you have any symptoms of osteoma.

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  9. Koh, K.-J., et al. (2016). Gardner syndrome associated with multiple osteomas, intestinal polyposis, and epidermoid cysts. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192025/
  10. Niebel, D., et al. (2020). Osteoma cutis and calcinosis cutis: "Similar but different." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7716738/
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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Mar 23
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