Orthopedic Oncology at Pima Ortho

Primary bone cancer is a rare disease that can affect any bone in the human body, accounting for less than 0.2 percent of all cancers. When people are facing bone cancer, they will often see different doctors as they navigate tests, diagnoses, surgeries, and treatments including chemotherapy or radiation.

An orthopedic oncologist, such as Dr. John C. Medlen, MD, in Tucson Arizona, is a Board Certified physician and surgeon who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of primary, benign, and malignant tumors of the bones. Since 1984, with his expertise in musculoskeletal oncology, joint reconstruction, and anterior hip replacement, Dr. Medlen has successfully treated thousands of patients.


Orthopedic oncologists are a unique group of physicians with an incomparable skill set. Dr. Medlen is only a handful of surgeons in the country with this specialized expertise. With the primary aim to repair, preserve, and restore function, Dr. Medlen is skilled at treating complicated cases including those patients with musculoskeletal damage from cancerous tumors.


Orthopedic oncologists are medical doctors and surgeons who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of primary bone cancers or cancers that begin in a person’s bones. Orthopedic oncologists are also rare. There are only about 120 orthopedic oncologists in the United States and only 17 in Canada.

While orthopedic oncology is a highly specialized field, it has deep roots in European medicine.

Sarcomas were first characterized by their gross characteristics in 1804 but then evolved to include their histologic features in 1867. This means that bone cancer was diagnosed first by what could be discerned by the naked eye and then advanced to include an examination of tissue specimens under a microscope.

Early forms of cancer treatment initially began with local excision and amputation throughout medical history until limb-sparing resection was pioneered in the mid-1900’s. Nonsurgical treatments continued to evolve in the 1880’s but remained largely ineffective until the introduction of chemotherapy in the 1970’s.

These advancements continued to pave the way over the last 30 years towards improved patient outcomes using progressive reconstructive techniques, with a focus towards limb-saving surgery and improving survival rates.

Bone cancer treatment and orthopedic oncology continue to evolve to this day as oncologists work to not only discover less invasive treatment options but also better means of diagnosis and prevention.

Bone Cancer Facts: What Does an Orthopedic Oncologist Do?

Put simply, a fully qualified orthopedic oncologist is a one-stop shop for successful bone cancer care and treatment.

An orthopedic oncologist is trained to:

  • Diagnose primary bone cancers
  • Determine the best treatment to eradicate the disease
  • Perform surgery to remove all cancer cells
  • Perform reconstructive surgery to restore function
  • Devise and oversee follow-up treatment with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy
  • Pain management related to cancer and treatment
  • Coordinate patient care with other necessary specialists

A Look into Orthopedic Oncology Education and Training

Medical doctors generally complete four years of undergraduate study followed by four additional years of medical school. Orthopedic oncologists follow this path but must also complete a residency specializing in orthopedic surgery, which can last as long as five years.

Dr. Medlen is certified by The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, Subspecialty Sports Medicine, as well as the American Board of Pathology, Anatomic and Clinical.  He completed his residency at The University of California Irvine, Irvine Affiliated Hospitals, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, and University of Arizona, College of Medicine.

Dr. Medlen is a graduate of the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine, with his Bachelors degree from Stanford University.

He maintains hospital affiliations with St. Mary’s Hospital & Health Center, Tucson, Arizona where he is a staff member, Orthopedic Surgery since 1983.

Dr. Medlen is a three time recipient of Vitals.com Patients’ Choice Award (2008, 2009, 2018), and voted “Top Doctor” in 2020 by Arizona Top Doctors Magazine.

FYI, the beginning of training for orthopedic oncology are the treatments and diagnosis including radiation therapy and bone and soft tissue tumor pathology. In addition, the orthopedic oncologist is taught how to use imaging techniques, like X-rays or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to help with diagnosis. The goal of the orthopedic oncology fellowship is to prepare the doctor to provide bone cancer care and treatment for any part of the body.

While the advanced technical skills and expertise developed by orthopedic oncologists allow them to successfully diagnose and treat patients with bone cancer, they can also apply specific techniques to treat patients with bone damage as a result of degenerative joint disease, arthritis or complex fractures. Read more about bone cancers at cancer.gov

How to Find a Bone Cancer Expert

Orthopedic oncologists are probably the smallest club within orthopedics. The truth is, because there are so few orthopedic oncologists practicing, you may have to travel to another city or state to receive care.

However, for primary bone cancer, it is crucial to receive care from a board-certified orthopedic oncologist not just to treat the cancer but to support your overall well-being and quality of life. Dr. Medlen is not only highly acclaimed for his skill and expertise in treating bone cancer in the greater Tucson area, but also for his exceptional compassion and gentle manner when working with each patient.


Dr. John C. Medlen, a native Spanish speaker, is devoted to providing exceptional care and treatment for his patients in the Greater Tucson area. He is a recognized leader in treating complex cases involving bone cancer treatment, reconstruction, and bone preservation. Contact us today to schedule a personal consultation.

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