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Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer that usually affects skeletal muscles used to control movement of various parts of the body. Approximately 500 people are diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma each year in the United States, most of them children and adolescents.

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What is Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) starts in the mesenchymal cells, which are a type of stem cell that turn into skeletal muscle and other soft tissues. When RMS occurs, the affected cells change and grow out of control to form one or more tumors. RMS most often affects children, though it can occur at any age. RMS can also be refractory (unresponsive to initial treatment) or recurrent.

The four main types of rhabdomyosarcoma are:

  • Embryonal: This type occurs most frequently in the head and neck area or in the genital or urinary tract, but can appear anywhere in the body. Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of rhabdomyosarcoma.
  • Alveolar: Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma is typically found in the arms or legs, abdomen, chest, genital organs or anal area.
  • Spindle cell/sclerosing: The spindle cell type of rhabdomyosarcoma generally occurs in the paratesticular (testis or spermatic cord) area.
  • Pleomorphic: This is an uncommon form of the disease that occurs mainly in adults and is the least common type of rhabdomyosarcoma seen in children.

What Are the Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma symptoms include:

  • A lump or swelling that does not go away and keeps growing; the lump or swelling may or may not be painful
  • Eyes that cross or bulge
  • Headache
  • Difficulty urinating or producing bowel movements
  • Blood in the urine
  • Bleeding from the nose, throat, vagina or rectum

The signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma may be caused by other conditions. Symptoms of the diseases also depend on the location of the cancer. Consult with a physician if your child experiences any of the above-listed symptoms.

Why Choose Rainbow for the Treatment of Rhabdomyosarcoma?

The pediatric oncologists at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute are passionate about improving the outcomes for children, adolescents and young adults with cancer. We are at the forefront of latest advancements in childhood cancer treatments, with outcomes that rank among the best in the country. Angie’s Institute, which is fully integrated with UH Seidman Cancer Center and the NCI-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, offers nationally renowned cancer treatment programs that encompass routine and complex care for every stage of the disease.

New Hope Through Immunotherapy

The Center for Pediatric Immunotherapy at Angie’s Institute was established to advance the application of immunotherapy, a medical treatment that utilizes the body’s own immune system to fight cancer and other conditions in babies, children, adolescents and young adults. Immunotherapy shows significant promise in treating childhood cancers such as rhabdomyosarcoma and lessening the damaging, long-term side effects associated with conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

In the ongoing development of immunotherapeutic treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma, promising research areas include vaccine therapy, which involved using a substance or group of substances to stimulate the immune system to find a tumor and destroy it. Another important research area is immunecheckpoint inhibitor therapy, which seeks to inhibit the defensive ability of certain types of cancer cells to suppress the body's immune system from killing those same cells.

Diagnosis & Treatments

At UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s, we use advanced diagnostics and treatments to diagnose and treat rhabdomyosarcoma in children and adolescents.

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