What is Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer of soft tissue, typically found in children and young adults, that affects the skeletal (voluntary) muscles that are attached to bones and help them move. It is made of cells that are similar to those that make up skeletal muscles. In adults, it is most commonly found in the head and neck area or in the reproductive system.

Signs and Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma

Common symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma include:

  • lumps or bumps in the muscle tissue
  • pain in the affected area
  • swelling in the affected area
  • trouble breathing
  • loss of appetite
  • weakness in the affected area
  • weight loss
  • jaundice

Who is at Risk for Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is relatively rare, accounting for only 3 percent of all childhood cancer cases. It can occur in infants, children, and adults—the majority of cases occur in children under the age of 10. Children who have been exposed to radiation therapy or who have been diagnosed with other medical conditions may be more at risk for developing rhabdomyosarcoma.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Rhabdomyosarcoma

Diagnosis is typically made through a physical examination and imaging tests. A biopsy may also be necessary to confirm the type of cancer present. Treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy to decrease the size of the tumor, and/or radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma can have significant side effects, and treatment options will vary depending on the type and stage of cancer.