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Diagnosis & Treatment of Rhabdomyosarcoma

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s health history and symptoms. A physical exam will be performed to gauge overall health and check for signs of disease such as lumps. In addition, the doctor will look at your child’s medical history.

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How is Rhabdomyosarcoma Diagnosed?

To diagnose childhood rhabdomyosarcoma, the doctor will perform certain diagnostic tests and obtain a biopsy if necessary. The diagnostic tests utilized depend on where the cancer is located in the body and other factors. Common diagnostic tests used include:

  • Imaging tests, including:
    • X-ray: An X-ray is a type of energy beam that can pass through the body and onto a film to make a picture of areas inside the body. X-rays will be taken of the chest and the area where the tumor is located.
    • EOS imaging: EOS imaging is a type of X-ray obtained by scanning a patient in either a standing or sitting position using a low dose of radiation. In children, EOS imaging simultaneously captures frontal and lateral full body images in just 15 seconds.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This procedure uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. Your child is not exposed to radiation during an MRI.
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This type of scan uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to create cross-sectional images of bones or other parts of the body.
    • Bone scan: In this procedure, a very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream to collect in the bones affected by cancer. A scanner is used to detect the radioactive material.
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: In this type of imaging, a radioactive sugar is injected into a vein. A scanner detects the sugar to create detailed, computerized pictures of areas of the body.
  • Blood and urine tests:
    • Bone marrow aspiration: A procedure where the doctor removes a sample of bone marrow, blood and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone
    • Lumbar puncture: a procedure for the collection of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the spinal column

If initial testing indicates the possibility of a rhabdomyosarcoma, a biopsy will be taken. A biopsy is the removal of cells or tissue samples that can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The types of biopsies used in the diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma include:

  • Core needle biopsy: Removal of tissue with a wide needle that can be guided using ultrasound, CT scan or MRI
  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: Removal of tissue or fluid using a thin needle
  • Open biopsy: Removal of tissue via an incision made in the skin
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy: A procedure for the surgical removal of the sentinel lymph node, which is the first lymph node to which cancer cells are likely to spread to from a primary tumor

How is Rhabdomyosarcoma Treated?

Treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma depends on the location of the cancer, the stage, grade and other factors. Rhabdomyosarcoma is treated with traditional therapies, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and supportive care. In addition, many pediatric patients with this cancer are treated as part of a clinical trial.

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