Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

What is Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a form of cancer that begins in the muscle tissue. Cells that resemble the rhabdomyoblasts (the cells that develop into voluntary or skeletal muscles of the body) of a fetus (baby still in the womb) begin to grow and divide abnormally. This cancer begins in the soft tissues in a type of muscle called striated muscle and can occur anywhere in the body.

Eighty-five percent of all cases of rhabdomyosarcoma occur in children and young adults under the age of 25. It very rarely occurs in older adults. It is also the most common type of sarcoma to be found in the soft tissues of children.

Types of Rhabdomyosarcoma

There are three types of rhabdomyosarcoma:

  • Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma: most common type; occurs typically in the head and neck area, the bladder, the vagina, and in or around the prostate and testes; usually affects infants and young children
  • Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma: occurs in the large muscles of the trunk, arms and legs; usually occurs in older children and teens
  • Pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcoma: rarely occurs in children; typically occurs in adults age 30-50

Risk Factors

There are very few known risk factors for developing rhabdomyosarcoma. The following indicates a slightly higher than average risk of developing this disease:

  • Sex. Boys are one and a half times more likely to develop this disease than girls
  • Race. Asians have a slightly lower risk for developing this disease than do white or African-American children.
  • Family history. Children with a family medical history of Li-Fraumeni syndrome may have a slightly higher risk of developing this disease.
  • Genetic disorders. Children with Beckwith-Wiedemann's syndrome or Neurofibromatosis (vonRecklinghausen's disease) have a slightly higher risk of developing this disease

Common Symptoms

Following are some common symptoms associated with rhabdomyosarcoma. Symptoms will depend upon where the cancer is located.

  • Painless mass or swelling usually in the trunk, arms, legs, or groin
  • Bulging or crossed eyes
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Painful urination or bowel movements
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Rarely - yellowing of the skin or eyes

These symptoms may be indicative of cancer or other medical conditions. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, he/she should see their doctor.

Diagnosing Rhabdomyosarcoma

If symptoms are present, your child's doctor will perform a complete physical exam and may prescribe additional tests to find the cause of the symptoms. Tests may include a chest x-ray, CT (or CAT) scan, MRI and/or a biopsy.

If cancer is detected, your child's doctor will prescribe additional tests to identify the type and stage of the disease.

Treatment Options

Your child's doctor will work with you and your child to develop the best treatment plan. This plan will be developed based upon the type and stage of the disease, as well as your child's age and general health. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

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Pediatric Hematology/
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Golisano Children's Hospital
601 Elmwood Avenue
Rochester, NY 14642
Phone: (585) 275-2981
Fax: (585) 273-1039

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