Treatment Option Overview
For most children with rhabdomyosarcoma, complete removal of the tumor by surgery is not possible.
Rhabdomyosarcoma can form in many different places in the body and the surgery will be different for each site. Surgery to treat rhabdomyosarcoma of the eye or genital areas is usually a biopsy. Chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy, may be given before surgery to shrink large tumors.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, patients will be given chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy, after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. The type and amount of radiation therapy and when it is given depend on where in the body the tumor started, how much tumor remained after surgery, and the age of the child.
Types of external radiation therapy include the following:
- Conformal radiation uses a computer to create a 3-dimensional picture of the tumor. The radiation beams are shaped to fit the tumor.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses images created by a computer that show the size and shape of the tumor. Thin beams of radiation of different intensities are aimed at the tumor from many angles.
- Fractionatedstereotactic radiation therapy uses a rigid head frame attached to the skull to aim radiation directly to a tumor, causing less damage to nearby healthy tissue. The total dose of radiation is divided into several small doses given over several days. This procedure is also called stereotactic external-beam radiation therapy and stereotaxic radiation therapy. It may be used for rhabdomyosarcomas of the head and neck.
- Proton-beam therapy is a type of high-energy, external radiation therapy that uses streams of protons (small, positively-charged particles of matter) to kill tumor cells.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is treatment using more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.