Key Points about Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS)
- Rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS, can develop in any area of the body.
- RMS most often affects children.
- Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy, bone scans and physical exams to diagnose RMS.
- Treatment for RMS may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Rhabdomyosarcoma – or RMS – is a rare type of cancer that affects soft tissue. Though RMS can affect people of any age, this cancer most often affects children. RMS most often develops in the following areas of the body:
- Head and neck
- Arms or legs
- Reproductive systems, such as the testes, vagina or uterus
- Urinary system, such as the bladder
RMS is caused when mutations (changes) occur in the soft tissue cells, and then those cells grow and multiply quickly.
Rhabdomyosarcoma risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing RMS:
- Having a family history of cancer, especially cancer at a young age
- Having certain inherited genetic syndromes, such as:
- Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
- Costello syndrome
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Neurofibromatosis 1
- Noonan syndrome
Symptoms of RMS vary depending on where it is located.
Symptoms of RMS in the head or neck area can include:
- Swelling or bulging of the eyes
- Bleeding in the throat, ears or nose
Symptoms of RMS in the urinary system or reproductive system can include:
- A mass or bleeding from the vagina or rectum
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Difficulty urinating
- Trouble with bowel movements
Symptoms of RMS in the arms or legs can include:
- Pain the area of the RMS
- Swelling or lump in the arm or leg
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the area of the suspected RMS. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer.
- Bone scan – during this imaging test, your doctor looks for areas of abnormalities in your bones that could indicate that you have cancer. Your doctor can also use the bone scan to help determine if the cancer has spread to the bone.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the RMS. Your doctor can also use the CT scan to help determine if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the RMS. Your doctor can also use the MRI to help determine if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site.
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the RMS and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
- Chemotherapy – you may also need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.