Children's Cancer Foundation

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Rhabdomyosarcoma


Introduction

This is a relatively rare cancer which accounts for about 5% of childhood cancers.  It arises from the skeletal muscle.  It may be found in the head and neck area, the pelvis, or in the limbs.  It occurs slightly more frequently in males and usually affects children between the ages of 2 and 6.

 

Symptoms

This will depend on where the tumour develops.  A swelling is the most obvious sign.  It can be found in the child's head, cheek, neck, chest or limbs.  There may be bleeding from the child's nose, ear, and in the case of a girl, the vagina.  If the cancer is in the urinary bladder, it may cause difficulty in passing urine.

 

Diagnostic Tests

Diagnosis is made by taking a biopsy from the tumour.  Further tests such as blood tests, bone marrow aspirate, X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan and bone scan are done to determine the local extent of the tumour and also to see whether the tumour has spread to other parts of the body.

 

Treatment

Wide excision of the tumour is the primary treatment, which is followed by intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  However, if the tumour is so large that surgery presents a risk to the patient or that it would result in serious disfigurement or physical disability, it is then necessary to first reduce the size of the tumour by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or both, before surgery.  In some cases, the cancer can be treated effectively just with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

 

Long-term care

About 60% of the cases can be cured.  The chance will be higher for some localized tumours. Long term side effects depend on the kind of surgery employed and on the nature of the anti-cancer drugs administered.  Fertility may be hampered, and the child's growth and development should be checked regularly.