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Cancer Health Center

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Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma

Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in muscle tissue.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of sarcoma. Sarcoma is cancer of soft tissue (such as muscle), connective tissue (such as tendon or cartilage), or bone. Rhabdomyosarcoma usually begins in muscles that are attached to bones and that help the body move. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children. It can begin in many places in the body.

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There are three main types of rhabdomyosarcoma:

  • Embryonal: This type occurs most often in the head and neck area or in the genital or urinary organs. It is the most common type.
  • Alveolar: This type occurs most often in the arms or legs, chest, abdomen, genital organs, or anal area. It usually occurs during the teen years.
  • Anaplastic: This type rarely occurs in children.

See the following PDQ treatment summaries for more information about soft tissue sarcomas:

  • Childhood Soft Tissue Sarcoma
  • Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Certain genetic conditions increase the risk of childhood rhabdomyosarcoma.

Anything that increases the risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your child's doctor if you think your child may be at risk. Risk factors for rhabdomyosarcoma include having the following inherited diseases:

Children who had a high birth weight or were larger than expected at birth may have an increased risk of embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.

In most cases, the cause of rhabdomyosarcoma is not known.

A sign of childhood rhabdomyosarcoma is a lump or swelling that keeps getting bigger.

Signs and symptoms may be caused by childhood rhabdomyosarcoma or by other conditions. The signs and symptoms that occur depend on where the cancer forms. Check with your child's doctor if your child has any of the following:

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