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

Fortunately, cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence of childhood cancer has been slowly increasing since 1975.[1] Children and adolescents with cancer should be referred to medical centers that have a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists with experience treating the cancers that occur during childhood and adolescence. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the primary care physician, pediatric surgical subspecialists, radiation oncologist, pediatric oncologist/hematologist, rehabilitation specialists, pediatric nurse specialists, social workers, and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pediatric Supportive Care for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)

Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.[2] At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most types of cancer that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate in these trials is offered to most patients/families. Clinical trials for children and adolescents with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

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Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved for children and adolescents with cancer.[1] Between 1975 and 2002, childhood cancer mortality has decreased by more than 50%. For rhabdomyosarcoma, the 5-year survival rate has increased over the same time from 53% to 65% for children younger than 15 years and from 30% to 47% for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.[1] Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close follow-up because cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)

Incidence and Epidemiology

Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue malignant tumor of mesenchymal origin, accounts for approximately 3.5% of the cases of cancer among children aged 0 to 14 years and 2% of the cases among adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 19 years.[3,4] The incidence is 4.5 per 1 million children and 50% of cases are seen in the first decade of life.[5]

Incidence may depend on the histologic subtype of rhabdomyosarcoma:

  • Embryonal: Patients with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma are predominantly male (M:F = 1.5) and peaks in the 0 to 4 year age group at approximately 4 cases per 1 million children, with a lower rate in adolescents, approximately 1.5 cases per 1 million adolescents.[5]
  • Alveolar: The incidence of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma does not vary by gender and is constant from ages 0 to 19 years at approximately 1 case per 1 million children and adolescents.[5]
  • Undifferentiated sarcoma: Compared with older patients, infants younger than 1 year have a higher incidence of undifferentiated sarcoma and tumors of the trunk and abdomen and a lower incidence of parameningeal tumors.[6]
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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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