What is Rhabdomyosarcoma?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2018
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When a child receives a diagnosis of a malignant tumor, chances are it will be classified as rhabdomyosarcoma. This long word denotes the most common kind of soft-tissue tumor found in children.

Rhabdomyosarcoma develops from a rhabdomyoblast. This is a primitive muscle cell that did not develop properly. Instead of developing into a muscle, the cell instead begins growing out of control and becomes rhabdomyosarcoma.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is an aggressive form of cancer, and grows rapidly. It is usually found in the head and neck area, but can occur in any soft tissue. The most common kind is embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, which usually occurs in children under age 15. It is also considered the most treatable form of rhabdomyosarcoma.

As with all cancers, the prognosis for rhabdomyosarcoma depends largely on early detection. Since this cancer can cause tumors that are palpable through the skin, parents may notice something is wrong and start medical treatment very quickly. Location also plays a role in prognosis. Those tumors found in the genitourinary tract are generally more treatable than those found in the head and neck, trunk or extremities. Also, if the cancer seems to be localized, the prognosis is also better.


Surgery combined with chemotherapy usually produces the best prognosis, if the tumor can be accessed through surgery. However, for tumors that cannot be surgically removed, or not completely removed, the remaining tumor usually spreads and the prognosis is poor. Radiation therapy may also be used with some success for localized tumors.

Rhabdomyosarcoma accounts for less than 10 percent of all childhood cancer and is generally diagnosed in the first 10 years of life. Fortunately, this kind of cancer is among the rarest kind, in spite of its seeming prevalence. Soft-tissue tumors are rare in themselves, particularly in children. The five-year survival rate for children suffering from rhabdomyosarcoma is about 50 percent. Research continues to focus on effective chemotherapy regimens and better radiation methods to halt the spread of the cancer.



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