Know the basics
What is rhabdomyosarcoma?
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a fast-growing cancer that can develop in soft tissues (such as muscle) almost anywhere in the body. These are muscles that we have control over (for example, to move arms or legs). They are also known as skeletal or striated muscles. The most common places for rhabdomyosarcoma to be found are the head, neck, bladder, vagina, arms, legs and trunk of the body. In rhabdomyosarcoma, the cancer cells look similar to immature muscle cells.
There are two main types of rhabdomyosarcoma:
- Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma usually affects children under age 6. It often appears in the head and neck region, and especially in the tissues around the eye (orbital rhabdomyosarcoma). Another common area for these tumours to develop is the genitourinary region, where they can occur in the womb, vagina, bladder or prostate gland.
- Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma usually affects older children or teenagers. It tends to be more aggressive than embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. It occurs more often in the arms and legs, or in the chest or abdomen.
A third type, called anaplastic rhabdomyosarcoma, is the least common type. Adults are more likely than children to develop it.
How common is rhabdomyosarcoma?
Rhabdomyosarcoma is common. Rhabdomyosarcomas are slightly more common in children. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma?
The common symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma are
- Eyes: Tearing, eye pain, or a bulging eye.
- Nose and throat: Nasal congestion, bleeding, or a change in the voice, or a nasal discharge that contains mucus and pus.
- Genital or urinary tract: Abdominal pain, a lump in the abdomen that can be felt, difficulty urinating, and blood in the urine.
- Limbs: Firm lumps on the arms or legs. Limb cancers frequently spread, especially to the lungs, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. Usually, this spread does not cause symptoms.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- A persistent lump or swelling in part of the body;
- Bulging of the eye or a swollen eyelid;
- Headache and nausea;
- Trouble urinating or having bowel movements;
- Blood in the urine;
- Bleeding from the nose, throat, vagina, or rectum;
- Enlargement of one side of the scrotum.
Know the causes
What causes rhabdomyosarcoma?
The exact causes of rhabdomyosarcomas are unknown. Researchers are trying to find out as much as possible about them.
Soft tissue sarcomas may occur in an area that has previously been treated with radiotherapy for another type of cancer. The sarcoma won’t usually develop until at least 10 years after the radiotherapy treatment.
Exposure to some types of chemicals may be linked to the development of some sarcomas. The chemicals include vinyl chloride, which is used for making plastics, and some types of herbicides (weed killers) and dioxins.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for rhabdomyosarcoma?
Certain inherited conditions increase a person’s risk of developing rhabdomyosarcoma. These include range of genetic abnormalities that make people more likely to develop this type of cancer as well as cancers:
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Neurofibromatosis type 1
- Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
- Costello syndrome
- Noonan syndrome
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosed?
If a lump is detected, computed tomography (CT) or sometimes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is done. The diagnosis is confirmed by taking a sample from the lump and examining it under a microscope biopsy. Sometimes the entire lump is removed.
To determine whether the cancer has spread, CT of the chest and a bone scan are done, and a sample of bone marrow is removed and examined.
A CT scan takes a series of x-rays that build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.
You may be given a drink or an injection of dye that allows particular areas to be seen more clearly.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is similar to a CT scan but uses magnetism instead of x-rays to build up cross-sectional pictures of your body.
How is rhabdomyosarcoma treated?
Treatment consists of surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation.
The surgeon removes as much of the tumor as possible. He or she will try to minimize damage or disfigurement when doing so, but that can be difficult. In some cases, the surgeon must remove all or part of a limb. In other cases, the limb can be saved.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy (most commonly, vincristine, actinomycin D, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, ifosfamide, and etoposide) is almost always given after surgery. It destroys any remaining cancer cells where the tumor was removed. It can also kill small pockets of cancer cells that may be present in other parts of the body.
Radiation therapy is typically used if some cancer remains after surgery or if the cancer is considered high risk.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage rhabdomyosarcoma?
There are no known preventable risk factors for this disease. Genetic testing may help identify other family members who may be at risk for this type of sarcoma or other types of cancers.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Health handbook. Whitehouse Station, NJ, Merck Research Laboratories. Print version. Page 1847.
Rhabdomyosarcoma. http://www.nhs.uk/ipgmedia/National/Macmillan%20Cancer%20Support/assets/RhabdomyosarcomaMCS5pages.pdf. Accessed July 23, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017