Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) 

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of cancer that develops in the soft tissues of the body. Specifically, this rare type of cancer affects skeletal muscle tissue. Sometimes, it affects the hollow organs in the body, like the uterus or bladder. RMS usually affects children, however, it can occur at any age.


An RMS can develop in any portion of the body, however, the areas which are more prone include:

Head and neck area


Reproductive parts like the uterus, vagina, and testes

Legs and arms


Depending on the type of rhabdomyosarcoma, location, and size, the treatment for this cancer can vary. Usually, a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy is helpful for rhabdomyosarcoma.


There has been a great advance in the treatment of this cancer. However, after a doctor treats a rhabdomyosarcoma, you may need lifelong monitoring. This is necessary to look after the potential side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.



There is an exact known reason for rhabdomyosarcoma. However,

It’s not clear what causes rhabdomyosarcoma. However, doctors know that this cancer starts when changes in the DNA of a cell appear. The DNA of a cell has information and instructions for what to do.


However, when the changes occur, the cells start multiplying rapidly, which leads to the formation of a mass of abnormal cells (tumor). The cells then start invading and destroying the nearby healthy tissues.


After some time, the cancer cells spread to other parts like lungs, bones, etc. This is called metastasis. At this stage, it becomes very difficult to contain and control the tumor. Additionally, there are certain risk factors for rhabdomyosarcoma which include:


Risk factors

Factors that can lead to the increase in the risk of rhabdomyosarcoma include:

Family history of cancer. Children with a blood relative who had this cancer have a higher risk of rhabdomyosarcoma. The risk is particularly more when the rhabdomyosarcoma appears at a young age. However, you should remember that many children who develop rhabdomyosarcoma have no family history of this cancer.

Genetic syndromes. In some cases, certain syndromes have a potential link with rhabdomyosarcoma. These genetic syndromes which parents pass to their children include Noonan syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Costello syndrome, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, and neurofibromatosis 1.



Depending on the location of your tumor, you can show different types of signs and symptoms. For instance, you may develop the following types of symptoms if the cancer is present in the neck or head area:



Swelling or bulging of eyes.

Your nose, ears or throat bleeds


You may show the following symptoms if the cancer is present in the reproductive or urinary system:


Blood in the urine

Trouble while urinating

Irregular bowel movements.

Bleeding or presence of a mass in rectum or vagina.

You may show the following symptoms if cancer occurs in the legs or arms:


Swelling in the leg or arm

There is pain at the site of the tumor, however, sometimes no pain exists.




Your doctor may diagnose your Rhabdomyosarcoma utilizing several tests. The main diagnosis begins with the physical examination that helps your doctor to diagnose your symptoms in a better way. He/she may ask about the medical history and after suspecting a tumor, he/she may recommend other tests.


Imaging tests

Various imaging tests help detect your tumor. Thus, to look for the signs of cancer and investigate symptoms, your doctor may order for:


Computerized tomography (CT)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Positron emission tomography (PET)

Bone scan.



In this procedure, your doctor collects a sample from the tumor and sends it for laboratory testing. These tests help in detecting whether the cells are cancerous or not.

Types of biopsies that your doctor may use for diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma:

Needle biopsy. Here, a doctor will insert a thin needle through your skin. He/she will guide the needle into the tumor.


Surgical biopsy. In this procedure, your doctor will make a small cut through your skin. In this way, he/she will either remove the part of the tumor (incisional biopsy) or the whole tumor (excisional biopsy).


Furthermore, it needs careful planning to decide which type of biopsy will be useful. In this regard, a team of professionals will do careful planning. This is because doctors need to do the biopsy in such a way that the chances of future surgery are not degraded.


This is why you need to ask some important questions to your doctor before surgery. Ask him/her to refer you to an expert who has great experience in treating rhabdomyosarcoma.



Usually, your doctor will use a combination of treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. However, your exact treatment is going to depend upon where your tumor is, the size of your tumor.

It will also depend on the aggressiveness of your tumor and whether cancer has spread to one particular area (localized rhabdomyosarcoma) or various parts of the body (metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma).


The motive of surgery is to remove all the tumors. But, if the tumor has spread to other areas, it may not be possible to remove rhabdomyosarcoma. This is important when the tumor has spread to some vital organs.

However, other treatment options may be helpful if the surgery is not successful. This is important to kill all the remaining cancer cells with the help of other treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy.


Chemotherapy. This method uses some powerful drugs that can kill cancer kills. Thus, your doctor uses a combination of drugs, which he/she administrates through a vein. However, depending on the exact location of your tumor, your doctor may choose which drugs to administrate.


To kill the remaining cancer cells, your doctor may use chemotherapy after surgery or radiation therapy. Furthermore, to shrink a tumor that makes surgery or radiation therapy more effective, your doctor may use this form of treatment.

Radiation therapy.

To kill the tumor cells, radiation therapy uses beams of high energy like protons and X-rays. A machine is usually utilized for this that moves around you. It focuses on the radiations at some particular points of the body.


It may be beneficial to kill the remaining cancer cells after surgery or another form of treatment. Furthermore, it may be quite helpful to kill the cancerous cells of rhabdomyosarcoma instead of surgery. In case the tumor is nearby some vital organs, at that time radiation therapy is beneficial.


Clinical trials


An option can be clinical trials to test new forms of treatment. Thus, whether you can participate in a clinical trial or not, you should ask your doctor.


Coping and support 


When you get diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, it could be frightening for you. The condition will be no different for your family.


However, you may learn to cope with the uncertainty and distress related to cancer with time.  Thus, you need to follow these instructions until then;


Call on for medical support:


Various things are going to help you. For instance, the knowledge and understanding of a medical social worker, or any other mental health professional is necessary. They will help you in understanding your cancer.


Furthermore, if your child or other family member suffers from cancer, you need to ask health care professionals for advice. They will provide you with options for medical health support. This will also provide you with emotional and social support.


In addition to this, you can check various online services that will provide you support to combat cancer.


  • Gain more knowledge about rhabdomyosarcoma to make decisionsabout control and care: 


Ask your doctor about various treatment options related to rhabdomyosarcoma. Little knowledge is dangerous. Therefore, more confidence in understanding and making decisions about treatment options will be there with you. So you should always learn more about the disease.


Ask the health care team for guidance if your child has cancer. Therefore, get more and more information for appropriately caring for the patient.


Be close to your friends and family:

A close and strong relationship with your family and friends is necessary. It will help you deal with rhabdomyosarcoma.


You need practical support, moral support from your friends and relatives. Thus, someone should be there for you to look after the family. Emotional support from them is going to matter most. Thus, a healthy and happy person will ultimately efficiently fight the disease.


Prepare for your appointment


You are likely to start making an appointment with your primary care doctor if some signs and symptoms worry you. Ask for a referral to an experienced specialist if your doctor suspects rhabdomyosarcoma.


A team of specialists typically can treat. For instance;

Tumor surgeons who have specialization in operating soft tissue cancers.

Doctors who have a specialization in treating cancers with systemic medications or chemotherapy.

Pathologists diagnose the specific type of cancer by analyzing a tissue.

Rehabilitation specialists who after surgery help in the recovery of a tumor.


What you should expect from your doctor:


You will face several questions from your doctor. Thus, you should be ready to answer these. So, give more time to your doctor to address them. Your doctor may ask;


What signs and symptoms concern you more?


Have your symptoms been occasional or continuous?


When did you start to notice the symptoms?

The severity of your symptoms?


Is there anything that improves your symptoms?


Is there anything that worsens your symptoms?


Do you have any family or personal history of cancer?