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Note: This section has health/medical information. It was not written by a health care professional. The medical references are:
- NCI web site sections on rhabdomyosarcoma, accessed 2009
- Childhood Cancer: A Parents Guide to Solid Tumor Cancers, 2th ed., by Honna Janes-Hodder and Nancy Keene, 2002
Recommended: NCI PDQ for rhabdomyosarcoma
On this site: Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer: Rhabdomyosarcoma
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a fast-growing, highly malignant tumor which accounts for over half of the soft tissue sarcomas in children. Less frequently, other soft tissue sarcomas are found in children: fibrosarcoma, mesenchymoma, synovial sarcoma, and liposarcoma.
Rhabdomyosarcoma often causes a noticeable lump on a child's body. If the tumor is located internally, the symptoms depend on its location. For example, tumors in the nasal passage may put pressure on the eustachian tubes; a bladder tumor can cause trouble urinating; an orbital tumor may cause the eye to protrude.
Rhabdomyosarcoma tumors arise from a cell called a "rhabdomyoblast", which is a primitive muscle cell. Instead of differentiating into striated muscle cells, the rhabdomyoblasts grow out of control. Since this type of muscle is located throughout the body, the tumors can appear at numerous locations. The four major sites in which rhabdomyosarcoma is found are:
- head and neck; around the eyes -- 35-40%
- genitourinary tract -- 20%
- extremities -- 15-20%
- trunk (chest and lungs) -- 10-15%
Depending on the "histology" of the cells (how they look under a microscope), the tumors are classified as one of the following:
Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. Most common type, usually found in children under 15 and in the head and neck region and genitourinary tract.
Botryoid type. A variant of the embryonal type; the tumor arises as a grape-like lesion in mucosal-lined hollow organs such as the vagina and urinary bladder.
Alveolar type. A more aggressive tumor which usually involves the muscles of the extremities or trunk.
Pleomorphic type. Usually seen in adults and arises in muscles of the extremities.
Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is considered the most treatable form of the disease. The prognosis is also affected by the location of the primary tumor. Orbital and genitourinary track rhabdomyosarcomas have a better prognosis than do tumors which originate in the head and neck, extremity, pelvic, and trunk locations.
Prognosis also depends on the stage of the tumor. The Intergroup Rhabdomyosarcoma Study Group has defined a set of guidelines, which assign the tumor to groups 1-4 depending on the extent of the disease. For more information, see the PDQ on the staging of rhabdomyosarcoma.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is treated by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Surgery. Resection (removal) of the primary tumor. If necessary after chemotherapy or radiation has shrunk the tumor.
Chemotherapy. The following chemotherapy agents are commonly used: vincristine, cyclophosphamide, dactinomycin, adriamycin, ifosfamide, VP-16.
Radiation. External beam radiation is used in some cases of rhabdomyosarcoma.
Rhabdomyosarcoma clinical trials, NCI search form
- Accounts for 5-8% of childhood cancers.
- 70% of all rhabdomyosarcoma cases diagnosed in the first ten years of life.
- Usually affects children the ages of 2 to 6 and 15 to 19.
- The peak incidence in 1-5 age group.
- Overall, 50% of the children diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma survive 5 years.
The following ped-onc resource lists have appropriate sections for parents of children with rhabdomyosarcoma:
- childhood cancer e-mail lists - the ACOR rhabdomyosarcoma list (Rhabdo-kids) and the general childhood cancer list, ped-onc, are both appropriate
- support organizations
- books and printed materials - especially the book Childhood Cancer, A Parents's Guide to Solid Tumor Cancers, by Honna Janes-Hodder and Nancy Keene.
- young people with rhabdomyosarcoma - personal home pages
The following web sites provide good, general information on rhabdomyosarcoma.
- Resources on saromas on the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative. This patient-generated web site contains a wealth of helpful and practical information on treatment for sarcomas. A must-see site.
- Chris Lucas Trust has information on Rhabdomyosarcoma research.
- Sarcoma Alliance Information on treatment options; a great resource founded by patients and parents.
- Northwest Sarcoma Foundation.
- cancer.gov main page for rhabdomyosarcoma
- Anne's page on rhabdomyosarcoma resources. Some of the links are outdated.
These pages are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to render medical advice. The information provided on Ped Onc Resource Center should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you suspect your child has a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.