Stay informed with the latest updates on coronavirus (COVID-19). Find out more >>

Rhabdomyosarcoma

  • What is Rhabdomyosarcoma?

    Several different types of tumour may grow in muscles, sinews or the fibrous tissue, which surrounds muscle. The most common is a Rhabdomyosarcoma, a tumour of muscle. Rhabdomyosarcoma usually occurs in children between the ages of one and five years. Most commonly the tumour may appear in the head or neck, including the muscles around the eye, in the back of the throat, in the cheek or in part of the ear inside the skull. Other parts of the body often affected include the bladder, womb, vagina, prostate and the tissue around the testicles. Less commonly, the tumour grows in the muscles of the arms, legs, or trunk.

    Signs & Symptoms

    Depending on where the cancer develops it can cause very different symptoms. A lump may be noticed, perhaps in a child's head, neck, chest or a limb. There may be bleeding from the child's ear, nose, or vagina. A grape like growth may appear from one of these places. If the cancer is in the region of the bladder, it may be difficult for the child to pass urine.

    Tests

    The diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma is made by taking a biopsy of the tumour. Before any treatment begins, further tests, such as blood tests, bone marrow aspiration, CT, MRI and bone scans are done to find out if the cancer has spread. Chest X-rays are always done to see whether the tumour has spread to the chest. Ultrasound examinations may be done as well. (Refer to section on tests and procedures)

    Treatment

    All children with Rhabdomyosarcoma need chemotherapy as part of treatment. Chemotherapy helps to shrink the main tumour if it cannot be removed surgically at the beginning and also kills cells that have moved from the main tumour to other parts of the body.  Sometimes both surgery and radiotherapy are needed. Treatment programs need to be adapted to the site of the tumour.

    Follow up care

    After treatment has finished the child will be seen at regular intervals to monitor growth and development. Long term side effects depend on exactly what surgery was needed, what drugs were given, and whether radiotherapy was given.