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Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS)


About RMS

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS or "rhabdo") is a cancerous tumor that develops in the body's soft tissues, usually the muscles. It can affect the head, neck, bladder, vagina, arms, legs, trunk, or just about any body part. Cells from rhabdomyosarcomas are often fast growing and can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Rhabdomyosarcoma (rab-doe-myo-sar-KO-muh) is the most common type of soft-tissue cancer in children. Kids can develop it at any age, but most cases are in kids between 2 and 6 years old and 15 and 19 years old. Boys tend to be affected more often than girls.

Treating RMS usually includes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. With early detection and timely treatment, most kids make a full recovery.

Types of Tumors

The two main types of RMS in kids are:

  1. Embryonal RMS: This tumor usually develops in the head and neck area, genitals, or urinary tract. It typically affects kids younger than 6. Although it's an aggressive (fast-growing) type of tumor, most cases of embryonal RMS respond well to treatment.
  2. Alveolar RMS: This type, which is most likely to happen during the teen years, most often affects the arms or legs, chest, or abdomen. It, too, is fast-growing but often more difficult to treat. Most kids with alveolar RMS need intensive treatment.

Causes

The cause of RMS isn't clear, but doctors know that certain medical conditions can make some children more likely to develop it. These include genetic conditions like:

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of RMS depend on the size and location of the tumor. Sometimes a lump may appear on a child's body and there may be swelling, often without pain. Other times, the tumor may be so deep within the body that it causes few if any symptoms.

Rhabdomyosarcoma in the head may cause headaches, bulging of an eye, or a droopy eyelid. In the urinary system, RMS affects urination (peeing) and bowel movements, and can lead to blood in the pee or stool (poop). If a muscle tumor is pressing on a nerve, a child might feel tingling or weakness in that area.

Diagnosis

If a doctor thinks a child has RMS or another soft-tissue tumor, he or she will do a thorough physical exam and order these tests:

Treatment

Treatment of RMS and other soft-tissue tumors depends on staging. Staging helps determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease helps doctors decide how to treat it. 

Staging takes into account details like the size of the tumor (or tumors), how deeply the tumor has penetrated an organ, the area of the body where the cancer began, and whether the tumor has spread to other organs.

Other information (like the type of tumor and the child's age and overall health) also helps doctors develop treatment plans. Those plans can include the following options, in combination or alone:

Coping

Being told that a child has cancer can be a terrifying experience, and the stress of cancer treatment can be overwhelming for any family.

Although you might feel like it at times, you're not alone. To find support for yourself or your child, talk to your doctor, a hospital social worker, or a child life specialist. Many resources are available that can help you get through this difficult time.

Date reviewed: September 2016


Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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