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Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS): Information on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

  • Posted on- Oct 15, 2015
  • 278 Views

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer that forms in the body's soft tissues, such as muscle and connective tissue. In rhabdomyosarcoma, the cancer cells look similar to immature muscle cells. It can affect the head, neck, bladder, vagina, arms, legs, trunk, or any body part. Cells from these tumours often grow fast and can quickly spread to other organs of the body.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a prevailing form of soft-tissue cancer in children. Children of any age can get rhabdomyosarcoma but it is commonly seen in 2-6 years old and 15-19 years old. Boys tend to be affected more often than girls. There are two types of Rhabdomyosarcoma in children, namely (i) Embryonal RMS and (ii) Alveolar RMS

Symptoms associated with Rhabdomyosarcoma

Signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma depend on where it occurs. Children with rhabdomyosarcoma may experience the following symptoms or signs:

In the nasal cavity:


In the ear:

Behind the eye:
  • May cause the eye to bulge or swell
  • May make the child look cross-eyed

In the bladder, urinary tract, vagina, or testicle:

In the abdomen or pelvis:

In the arm or leg muscle:

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, you child may experience chronic cough, bone pain, enlarged lymph nodes, weakness, or weight loss.

Tests and diagnosis for rhabdomyosarcoma

If the doctor suspects your child with rhabdomyosarcoma, he or she will perform a thorough physical exam in addition to the following tests:
  • Imaging Tests: Imaging tests include CT scan, MRI, X-ray, bone scan and ultrasound. These tests are helpful in determining the size and location of the tumour.
  • Biopsy: A small price of cancerous tissue is removed from the body for further examination in a lab. Biopsy helps the doctor make a diagnosis and choose the right treatment.
  • Blood Tests: Tests such as complete blood count, liver function panel and blood chemistries can also give vital information about how well the liver and other organs are functioning.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: These procedures are performed in children with rhabdomyosarcoma for staging purposes. Staging helps determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment options for rhabdomyosarcoma

Treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma and other soft-tissue tumours depends on the child's age and overall health. Treatment options for rhabdomyosarcoma include:
  • Surgery: When the tumour is in an area that doctors can reach safely, surgery is performed to remove as much of the tumour as possible.
  • Radiation: This treatment uses high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays to target and destroy cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy works to treat cancer throughout the body. It uses drugs that are combined to attack the cancer cells in different ways.

Being told that your child has cancer can be emotionally devastating. It’s difficult but not impossible to get out of this tough phase. Talk to your doctor, a hospital social worker, or child life specialist on how to cope with this situation.