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Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Recurrent Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma

Although patients with recurrent or progressive rhabdomyosarcoma sometimes achieve complete remission with secondary therapy, the long-term prognosis is usually poor.[1,2] The prognosis is most favorable (5-year survival rates, 50%–70%) for children who initially present with Stage 1 or Group I disease and embryonal histology and who have small tumors, and for those who have a local or regional nodal recurrence.[1,2,3] A retrospective analysis of children with recurrence after initial presentation with localized rhabdomyosarcoma of the orbit reported 80% survival 5 years after recurrence with aggressive retrieval therapy.[4][Level of evidence: 3iiA] The small number of children with botryoid histology who relapse have a similarly favorable prognosis.[1] Most other children who relapse have an extremely poor prognosis.[1] A retrospective review of rhabdomyosarcoma patients from German soft tissue sarcoma trials identified time to recurrence as an important independent prognostic factor. Shorter time to recurrence was associated with higher risk of mortality from recurrent rhabdomyosarcoma.[5][Level of evidence: 3iiB] European investigators performed a retrospective review of patients with rhabdomyosarcoma enrolled on cooperative group trials who experienced recurrence. They identified metastatic (as opposed to local) recurrence, prior radiation therapy, initial tumor size (>5 cm), and time to relapse (<18 months) as unfavorable prognostic features for survival after recurrence.[6]

The selection of further treatment depends on many factors, including the site(s) of recurrence, previous treatment, and individual patient considerations. Treatment for local or regional recurrence may include wide local excision or aggressive surgical removal of tumor, particularly in the absence of widespread bony metastases.[7,8] Some survivors have also been reported after surgical removal of only one or a few metastases in the lung.[7] Radiation therapy should be considered for patients who have not already received radiation therapy in the area of recurrence, or rarely for those who have received radiation therapy but for whom surgical excision is not possible. Previously unused, active, single agents or combinations of drugs may also enhance the likelihood of disease control.

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The following standard chemotherapy regimens have been used to treat recurrent rhabdomyosarcoma:

  • Carboplatin/etoposide.[9]
  • Ifosfamide, carboplatin, and etoposide.[10,11]
  • Cyclophosphamide/topotecan.[12]
  • Irinotecan with or without vincristine.[13,14,15,16] A Children's Oncology Group (COG) prospective, randomized, up-front window trial, COG-ARST0121, showed no difference between vincristine plus irinotecan (20 mg/m2 /d) daily × 5 days for 4 weeks per 6-week treatment cycle (Regimen 1A) and irinotecan (50 mg/m2 /d) daily × 5 days for 2 weeks per 6-week treatment cycle (Regimen 1B) in poor-risk patients with relapsed or progressive rhabdomyosarcoma. At 1 year after initiation of treatment for recurrence, the failure-free survival (FFS) rate was 37% and the overall survival rate (OS) was 55% for Regimen 1A; the FFS rate was 38% and OS rate was 60% for Regimen 1B. The Soft Tissue Sarcoma Committee of the COG recommended the more convenient Regimen 1B for further investigation.[17][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
  • Single-agent vinorelbine. In one phase II trial, four of eleven patients with recurrent rhabdomyosarcoma responded to single-agent vinorelbine.[18] In another trial, 6 of 12 young patients (aged 9–29 years) had a partial response.[19]
  • Vinorelbine and cyclophosphamide. In a pilot study, three of nine patients with rhabdomyosarcoma had an objective response.[20] In a phase II study in France (N = 50), children with recurrent or refractory rhabdomyosarcoma were treated with vinorelbine and low-dose oral cyclophosphamide. Four complete responses and 14 partial responses were observed, for an objective response rate of 36%.[21][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]
  • Gemcitabine and docetaxel. In a single institution trial, two patients (N = 5) with recurrent rhabdomyosarcoma achieved an objective response.[22]
  • Rapamycin.[23]
  • Topotecan, vincristine, and doxorubicin.[24][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv]
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