Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancerous (malignant) tumor of the muscles that are attached to the bones. This cancer mostly affects children.
Soft tissue cancer - rhabdomyosarcoma; Soft tissue sarcoma; Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma; Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma; Sarcoma botryoides
Rhabdomyosarcoma can occur in many places in the body. The most common sites are the head or neck, the urinary or reproductive system, and the arms or legs.
The cause of rhabdomyosarcoma is unknown. It is a rare tumor with only several hundred new cases per year in the United States.
Some children with certain birth defects are at an increased risk. Some families have a gene mutation that increases this risk. Most children with rhabdomyosarcoma do not have any known risk factors.
The most common symptom is a mass that may or may not be painful.
Other symptoms vary depending on location of the tumor.
Exams and Tests
Diagnosis is often delayed because there aren't symptoms and because the tumor may appear at the same time as a recent injury. Early diagnosis is important because this cancer spreads quickly.
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Detailed questions will be asked about symptoms and medical history.
Tests that may be ordered include:
Treatment depends on the site and type of rhabdomyosarcoma.
Either radiation or chemotherapy, or both, will be used before or after surgery. In general, surgery and radiation therapy are used to treat the primary site of the tumor. Chemotherapy is used to treat disease at all sites in the body.
Chemotherapy is an essential part of treatment to prevent spread and recurrence of the cancer. Many different chemotherapy drugs are active against rhabdomyosarcoma. Your provider will discuss these with you.
The stress of illness can be eased by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
With intensive treatment, most children with rhabdomyosarcoma are able to survive long-term. Cure depends on the specific type of tumor, its location, and how much it has spread.
Complications of this cancer or its treatment include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if your child has symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma.
Dome JS, Rodriguez-Galindo C, Spunt SL, Santana VM. Pediatric solid tumors. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 95.
Goldblum JR, Folpe AL, Weiss SW. Rhabdomyosarcoma. In: Goldblum JR, Folpe AL, Weiss SW, eds. Enzinger and Weiss's Soft Tissue Tumors. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 20.
National Cancer Institute website. Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma treatment (PDQ) – health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/hp/rhabdomyosarcoma-treatment-pdq. Updated February 2, 2018. Accessed March 9, 2018.
Review Date: 1/19/2018
Reviewed By: Richard LoCicero, MD, private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology, Longstreet Cancer Center, Gainesville, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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