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Brittle bones: How researchers are treating bone cysts in children

Thousands of kids live with unicameral bone cysts, which weaken the bones. Now, a new technique is helping to make these brittle bones stronger and let kids be kids.

CHICAGO — Bones so weak that the slightest tumble or fall can break them – that’s the reality for thousands of children who live with unicameral bone cysts, which are non-cancerous bone tumors. Nobody knows why they form. But the surgery to get rid of them can be painful, until now. A new technique is helping to make these brittle bones stronger and let kids be kids.

Life is pretty sweet for 12-year-old Brooklyn Tissiere, but it hasn’t always been this way.

“I was skipping on my kitchen floor with socks, and I fell,” she recalls.

That was the first time Brooklyn broke her arm. In all, her fragile bone snapped five times.

Her father, Mark Tissiere, remembers another incident.

“She had just stepped off a low diving board at our local pool. And when she pushed herself up, her arm broke,” he says.

Brooklyn had a unicameral bone cyst.

“It's a fluid-filled cyst that expands bone and makes the bone thinner. So, then, the walls essentially become as thin as an eggshell,” explains Dr. Shanker Rajeswaran, MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Interventional Radiology at Lurie Children's Hospital.

Six years ago, doctors used a more invasive surgery on Brooklyn, making a large incision, scraping the cyst wall, and then, grafting it with bone. Unfortunately, the cyst came back. Then, Brooklyn became the first person to undergo a new minimally invasive technique developed at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Rajeswaran further explains, “Through two small pokes, we get two needles into the cyst, and we inject a medicine to destroy the cyst.”

Doctors inject the cyst with doxycycline to destroy it, and then inject a bone graft to strengthen the bone.

Brooklyn hasn’t had any breaks in the last four years and enjoys playing a host of sports she never thought she would be able to enjoy again.

The cysts are more common in boys than girls. They are usually not painful, and many go undetected. The cyst will usually stop growing when a child is full-grown, and most will fill in and disappear.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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