Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) in Children

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) in Children

About RMS

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS or “rhabdo”) is a malignant growth that develops in the body’s soft tissues, usually the muscles. It can affect the head, neck, bladder, vaginal area, arms, legs, trunk, or almost any body part. Cells from rhabdomyosarcomas are frequently quick growing and can spread out (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

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

Dealing with RMS usually consists of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. With early detection and prompt treatment, most kids make a full recovery.

About 7 weeks into the advancement of an embryo, cells called rhabdomyoblasts (which will ultimately form skeletal muscles) begin to form. These are the cells that can turn into RMS. Since this is a cancer of embryonal cells, it is much more common in children, although it does in some cases take place in adults.

Types of Tumors

The two primary types of RMS in kids are:

  1. Embryonal RMS: This growth normally establishes in the head and neck area, genital areas, or urinary tract. It generally impacts kids younger than 6. Although it’s an aggressive (fast-growing) type of growth, most cases of embryonal RMS respond well to treatment.
  2. Alveolar RMS: This type, which is most likely to happen during the teen years, usually affects the arms or legs, chest, or abdominal area. It, too, is fast-growing however frequently more difficult to treat. The majority of kids with alveolar RMS need intensive treatment.


The reason for RMS isn’t really clear, but physicians understand that specific medical conditions can make some children more likely to develop it. These include hereditary conditions like:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that makes a person likely to establish cancer at some point in his/her life
  • Neurofibromatosis, a condition that causes growths to grow on nerve tissue
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, a hereditary (present at birth) condition that can cause excessive development in the body, consisting of the internal organs
  • Costello syndrome and Noonan syndrome, both which can cause defects, developmental delays, and other problems

Symptoms and signs

Symptoms of RMS depend on the size and area of the tumor. Often a swelling may appear on a child’s body and there might be swelling, often without pain. Other times, the growth might 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 impacts urination (peeing) and bowel movements, and can result in blood in the pee or stool (poop). If a muscle growth is continuing a nerve, a child may feel tingling or weak point because area.

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) in Children


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

  • Imaging studies. These will likely include a CT scan, MRI, and perhaps an X-ray, bone scan, or ultrasound. Not only will these tests help discover the size and place of the tumor, they also can figure out if cancer has actually spread (metastasized).
  • Biopsy. For a biopsy, a sample of a swelling, a sore, or tissue is taken from the body for close assessment. This assists medical professionals make a diagnosis and choose the right treatment. Biopsies often are done laparoscopically (using a small cut and an electronic camera to assist the doctor’s movements). The tumor might also be removed completely, if possible.
  • Blood tests. Tests such as a complete blood count, liver function panel, and blood chemistries can provide crucial info about how well the liver and other organs are working. If the doctor believes the tumor is connected to an underlying hereditary condition, some hereditary tests likewise might be done.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside bones that makes blood cells. This procedure involves eliminating a small amount of bone marrow tissue and examining it for cancer cells.


Treatment of RMS and other soft-tissue growths depends upon staging. Staging helps determine the level of the cancer and whether it has actually infected other parts of the body. Understanding the stage of the disease helps doctors choose how to treat it.

Staging considers details like the size of the tumor (or growths), how deeply the growth has actually penetrated an organ, the area of the body where the cancer started, and whether the tumor has actually infected other organs.

Other details (like the type of growth and the child’s age and general health) likewise assists doctors develop treatment strategies. Those strategies can consist of the following options, in combination or alone:

  • Surgery. When the growth is in an area that medical professionals can reach safely, surgery is done to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
  • Radiation. This treatment uses high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, or fast-moving subatomic particles (called particle or proton beam therapy) to target and damage cancer cells. Besides killing cancer cells, radiation therapy also can damage normal cells, causing physical side effects like tiredness (fatigue), queasiness, and hair loss. Many side effects disappear once treatment has actually ended. During treatment, the health care group thoroughly monitors radiation dosages to safeguard healthy tissue as much as possible. This helps in reducing long-lasting effects.
  • Chemotherapy. In contrast to radiation, which destroys the malignant cells of a growth in a specific area of the body, chemo works to treat cancer throughout the body. Typically, several chemotherapy drugs are combined to attack the cancer cells in various methods. Like radiation, side effects are most likely but will reduce as soon as treatment ends.


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

Although you may seem like it sometimes, you’re not alone. To discover support for yourself or your child, speak to your doctor, a health center social worker, or a child life specialist. Numerous resources are available that can assist you survive this difficult time.

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