Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common of soft tissue sarcomas in children.  It is a rare type of cancer.  That affects the soft tissues in the body, these are tissues that support and connect organs.  Rhabdomyosarcoma mostly affects children under the age of 10 years old.  However, it can affect older children, teens and in rare cases even adults.  The most common areas of the body that it affects are the head, neck, urinary system, reproductive system, arms or legs. 

Remission is possible with this type of cancer.  In adults the chance of remission is low.  Remission can sometimes be lifelong, or rhabdomyosarcoma can return after a few years.  After being diagnosed 70% of children live another 5 years.  


Types Of Rhabdomyosarcoma

There are different types of rhabdomyosarcoma. The most common type is embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.  This type affects mostly children.  Tumors appear in the head and neck area of the body.  Another type is alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.  Which affects older children, teenagers, and young adults ranging in ages 20-35.  It is an aggressive type of cancer that spreads very quickly.  It affects the arms, legs, and abdomen.  A third type is pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcoma.  Which is most common in adults 50 years old and older.  Tumors can develop anywhere, but most often affect the legs.  Other areas it can affect are the arms, chest, abdomen, head, and neck.



Symptoms vary depending on the location of the cancer.  If there are tumors present in the head and neck area you may have symptoms such as headache, nose bleed, bleeding throat, bleeding ears, tearing, bulging, or swelling of the eyes, or an earache.  Arm or leg tumors can cause a mass, lump, or swelling that is painful.  Abdominal rhabdomyosarcoma can cause belly pain, constipation, or vomiting.  Urinary tract or reproductive system tumors can lead to blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, trouble having a bowel movement, a mass, or a lump.  



The exact cause of rhabdomyosarcoma is unknown.  You are at a higher risk if you have one of the following genetic mutation syndromes; Li Fraumeni syndrome, Beckwith Wiedemann syndrome, neurofibromatosis, Costello syndrome, or Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome.  



When going to get diagnosed your doctor will want to hear your child’s or your symptoms.  They will then take a full family history.  After a physical exam they may want to perform a number of different tests.  Your doctor may want either a CT scan, a MRI scan, or a PET, positron emission tomography scan.  A bone scan can be done as well.  A lumbar puncture may be needed to see if your bone marrow is affected.  A bone marrow biopsy may also need to be done.  Biopsy tissues of any mass or lumps that are noticeable.  Immunohistochemistry or cytology tests can also be done.  Rhabdomyosarcoma will not show up on blood work.  Taking a total blood count sample will not diagnose you with rhabdomyosarcoma.  However after diagnosis, your doctor may do blood work during or after treatment to keep an eye on your blood counts.  



Treatment includes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.  Depending on where the cancer is, and if it is spreading will depend on the treatment options your doctor will suggest.  Sometimes there may need to be a combination of treatments to get the cancer into remission.  Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells.  Chemotherapy can be used to help shrink a tumor before surgery is done to help it be easier to remove all the cancer cells.  It can also be used after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer from coming back after surgery.  Side effects of chemotherapy are usually short term, once treatment stops side effects usually go away.  Side effects can include hair loss, feeling sick, tiredness, and an increased risk of infection.

Surgery is done when the cancer is in a spot where all the tumor, or cancer cells can be removed at once.  This is not always easy when the cancer is around or near organs.  Depending on the size and where the tumors are located will also play into whether surgery is an option or not.  

Radiation can be used after surgery, or instead of surgery when surgery is not an option.  Radiation destroys cancer cells with high energy rays.  This is the preferred method of treatment when the tumor is in a spot that surgery isn’t possible for.  Side effects of radiation include tiredness, and skin discoloration or irritation.  



Late side effects can occur with rhabdomyosarcoma.  This is when the cancer can still affect the child even if the cancer is in remission.  Late side effects can include bone growth, infertility, heart damage, kidney function damage, or an increase in the risk of developing other cancers later in life.  



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