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Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment- Surgery

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a rare type of cancer, which develops or originates in the muscles. It is a type of soft tissue sarcoma.1 According to the experts, in rhabdomyosarcoma, the cancer cells develop from skeletal muscle progenitors. This sarcoma also can be found connected to muscle tissue, surrounding the intestines and any other anatomic region. However, they are commonly found in areas, which don’t have skeletal muscle, such as the head, neck, vagina, bladder, prostate and testes.

Rhabdomyosarcoma or Muscle Cancer

Rhabdomyosarcoma can affect people of any age; however, it commonly develops in children and young adults. Treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma comprises of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

Types of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer

Two common types of rhabdomyosarcoma are alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma and embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.

  • Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma commonly occurs in younger children.2 The tumor looks like a 6 to 8 week embryo, hence the name.
  • Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma commonly affects older children and adolescents and the tumor looks like a 10 to 12 week embryo.

Causes of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer

The cause of rhabdomyosarcoma is not known. There are some risk factors, such as children having certain type of birth defects are more prone to develop this cancer. Families which have gene mutation are at an increased risk for this disease. However, there are many children suffering with rhabdomyosarcoma who don’t possess any of the known risk factors.

Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer

Depending On The Location Of The Tumor, Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer Are As Follows:

  • Presence of a mass which may or may not hurt. It is the most common symptom.
  • If the patient has tumors in their throat or nose, then there may be bleeding, swallowing problems and congestion.
  • Neurological deficits occur if the tumor metastasizes to the brain.
  • If the tumors surrounds the eyes then patient may experience vision problems, bulging of the eye, pain and swelling around the eye.
  • Presence of tumors in the ears results in loss of hearing, pain and swelling.
  • Tumors in the vagina and bladder cause problems in initiating urine, bowel movement and weak urine control.
  • Tumor in the muscles result in a painful lump and these are usually mistaken for an injury.

Investigations for Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer

Early diagnosis and treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma is important, as it metastasizes very quickly. The following investigations help in the diagnosis:

  • Complete physical exam.
  • Biopsy.3
  • X-ray
  • CT scan.
  • Bone marrow biopsy and bone scan helps in finding out the extent of the tumor.
  • MRI scan.
  • PET scan.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

Treatment of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) or Muscle Cancer

Treatment depends on the location and the type of rhabdomyosarcoma.

Surgery and radiation therapy are done for treating the primary site of the tumor. However, doing surgery depends on the site of the tumor and is not often possible. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be used individually or in combination. Chemotherapy helps in preventing rhabdomyosarcoma from spreading. Some of the chemotherapy drugs, which act against rhabdomyosarcoma are: Doxorubicin, dacarbazine, epirubicin, ifosfamide and gemcitabine.

Prognosis of rhabdomyosarcoma with treatment is quite good. Cure of the tumor depends on its location, its type and the extent of the tumor.


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 8, 2019

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