Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that affects muscle tissue, mostly in children and adolescents. It can occur anywhere in the body, but usually the head and neck, arms and legs, and urinary and reproductive organs. Treatments include surgery, chemo, radiation and supportive care. Several factors can affect survival.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of cancer that affects muscle tissue. It’s most common in children and adolescents.
The disease starts in the mesenchymal cells, which are cells that turn into muscle. With rhabdomyosarcoma, the cells change and grow out of control, forming one or more tumors.
Rhabdomyosarcoma can occur anywhere in the body, but it’s most common in the following places:
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Rhabdomyosarcoma is rare. Only about 500 people are diagnosed each year in the United States. Most of them are children or adolescents.
The types of rhabdomyosarcoma may include:
Scientists aren’t sure what causes rhabdomyosarcoma. They’re studying how changes to DNA might cause cells to become cancerous.
Symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma depend on where the cancer is in the body. But common signs include:
To diagnose rhabdomyosarcoma, a healthcare provider will perform:
A healthcare provider might also order some tests to remove a sample of tissue from the body for testing. Examples include:
Test results will help your child’s healthcare team stage the disease. Staging defines:
There are many ways to stage rhabdomyosarcoma. Talk to your healthcare provider about what stage your child has and what that means.
Your child’s healthcare team will recommend a combination of treatments depending on:
The major types of treatment are:
Because rhabdomyosarcoma is so rare, many people with the disease are treated as part of clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies that test the newest, most promising treatments. Ask your healthcare team about clinical trials and whether your child is eligible to join.
Sometimes treatments can cure rhabdomyosarcoma. This is called remission, which means that cancer can no longer be detected.
In many cases, remission is permanent, but rhabdomyosarcoma can come back. This is called recurrence. Recurrence can happen in the same place in the body or a different part.
Your healthcare team will classify the disease into a risk group, which is a way to predict the chance that rhabdomyosarcoma will recur. The risk group (low, intermediate or high) will also help the healthcare team determine the best treatment or combination of treatments. If rhabdomyosarcoma recurs, your child’s healthcare team will do more tests and recommend more treatments.
It isn’t clear who gets childhood rhabdomyosarcoma or why. There is currently no way to prevent it or to reduce the risk.
People with certain genetic disorders have an increased risk for rhabdomyosarcoma:
About 70% of people with rhabdomyosarcoma survive five years or longer. But the outlook varies quite a lot depending on several factors, including:
Your healthcare provider can tell you more about your child’s prognosis.
If your child has been diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, consider asking your healthcare team the following questions:
It’s normal to experience stress, fear and anxiety when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Talk to your healthcare team about ways to cope. Also consider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma is, fortunately, very rare. Your healthcare team can confirm whether your child has this type of cancer and if so, determine what stage it is. The team will work with you to plan a treatment strategy and offer support to help your family cope.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/06/2021.
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