Denosumab-treated giant cell tumor of bone exhibits morphologic overlap with malignant giant cell tumor of bone

John Wojcik, Andrew E. Rosenberg, Miriam A. Bredella, Edwin Choy, Francis J. Hornicek, G. Petur Nielsen, Vikram Deshpande

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Giant cell tumor (GCT) of bone is a locally aggressive benign neoplasm characterized by an abundance of osteoclastic giant cells that are induced by the neoplastic mononuclear cells; the latter express high levels of receptor activator of nuclear factor κ-B ligand (RANKL). Denosumab, a RANKL inhibitor, which is clinically used to treat GCT, leads to a marked alteration in the histologic appearance of the tumor with giant cell depletion and new bone deposition, leading to substantial histologic overlap with other primary tumors of bone. Most significantly, denosumab-treated GCT (tGCT) with abundant bone deposition may mimic de novo osteosarcoma, or GCT that has undergone malignant transformation. To histologically characterize tGCT, we identified 9 cases of GCT biopsied or resected after denosumab treatment. tGCT cases included 16 specimens from 9 patients including 6 female and 3 male individuals aged 16 to 47 (median 32) years. Duration of treatment varied from 2 to 55 months. We compared these tumors with malignant neoplasms arising in GCTs (n=9). The histology of tGCT was variable but appeared to relate to the length of therapy. All tGCTs showed marked giant cell depletion. Early lesions were highly cellular, and the combination of cellularity, atypia, and haphazard bone deposition caused the lesion to resemble high-grade osteosarcoma. Unlike de novo high-grade osteosarcoma or malignancies arising in GCT, however, tGCT showed less severe atypia, reduced mitotic activity, and lack of infiltrative growth pattern. Tumor in patients on prolonged therapy showed decreased cellularity and abundant new bone, deposited as broad, rounded cords or long, curvilinear arrays. The latter morphology was reminiscent of low-grade central osteosarcoma, but, unlike low-grade central osteosarcoma, tGCT was negative for MDM2 and again lacked an infiltrative growth pattern. Overall, tGCT may have a wide range of morphologic appearances. Because the treated tumors bear little resemblance to their pretreatment counterparts, careful attention to the history of denosumab administration is crucial to avoid a misdiagnosis with an important impact on therapy. Unlike malignant GCTs, tGCTs lack significant nuclear atypia, mitotic activity, and infiltration of preexisting bone, but instead show a unique pattern of intralesional bone deposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-80
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • denosumab
  • giant cell tumor
  • malignant giant cell tumor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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