Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of cancer that affects soft tissue, such as muscles. It is the most common type of soft-tissue sarcoma in children, but it can also develop in adults. RMS is divided into two main subtypes: embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) and alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS). ERMS is the more common of the two subtypes, and is most likely to occur in children younger than 5 years old. ARMS is less common and more likely to occur in adolescents and young adults. Symptoms of RMS include swelling in the affected area, pain, and if the cancer has spread, difficulty breathing. Diagnosis is usually made through MRI, CT scan, biopsy, or bone marrow aspiration. Treatment for RMS usually involves surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.


The main symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) include: a lump or mass in the affected area that may be painless or painful, swollen lymph nodes in the area near the mass, fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and feeling tired. Other less common symptoms can include coughing, difficulty breathing, skin problems, such as a rash or swelling, and vision difficulty.


The exact cause of rhabdomyosarcoma is unknown. However, there are certain factors that may increase the risk of developing the disease, such as family history of certain cancers, radiation exposure, genetic syndromes, and certain inherited conditions, such as Noonan syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Other risk factors associated with rhabdomyosarcoma include certain genetic mutations, such as in the PAX3, PAX7, andNRAS genes.

Risk factors

The risk factors for Rhabdomyosarcoma are not well known and are still being researched. However, there are certain factors that have been associated with increased risk for this type of cancer, including:

  1. Down syndrome: Children with Down syndrome have a greater chance of developing Rhabdomyosarcoma.
  2. Radiation exposure: Certain types of radiation therapy have been linked to a higher risk of rhabdomyosarcoma.
  3. Certain genetic syndromes: Some genetic syndromes, including Li-Fraumeni syndrome and Neurofibromatosis type 1, are associated with an increased risk of this cancer.
  4. Family history: Having a family member with Rhabdomyosarcoma or a related cancer may increase the risk of this cancer.
  5. Birth defects: Children with certain congenital birth defects, such as the absence of one or both ovaries in females, may have a higher risk of developing Rhabdomyosarcoma.
  6. Immune system disorders: Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDs, may increase the risk of Rhabdomyosarcoma.
  7. Environmental exposures: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, may increase the risk of developing Rhabdomyosarcoma.


Rhabdomyosarcoma can be diagnosed through a variety of medical tests. The most common methods of diagnosis include imaging tests such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests allow a doctor to look for abnormalities in the tissues and organs of the body. A biopsy, where a doctor takes a sample of the suspected area and looks at it under a microscope, is also often used to diagnose rhabdomyosarcoma. Blood tests and other laboratory tests, such as a flow cytometry, may also be used.


Rhabdomyosarcoma can be divided into several subtypes, based on a variety of factors such as the location of the tumor, its histological features, and underlying genetic mutations.

The most common subtypes of Rhabdomyosarcoma are:

  1. Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS): This is the most common form of Rhabdomyosarcoma and usually affects younger children and infants. It most commonly arises in the head, neck and genitourinary tract.
  2. Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS): This form is slightly rarer than ERMS and usually affects older children, adolescents and young adults. It typically arises in the extremities, such as the arms and legs.
  3. Botryoid Rhabdomyosarcoma: This type of Rhabdomyosarcoma typically occurs in younger children and primarily involves the head, neck and genitourinary tract.
  4. Spindle Cell Rhabdomyosarcoma: This form is most common in adults and typically arises in the extremities.
  5. Pleomorphic Rhabdomyosarcoma (PRMS): This is the rarest form of Rhabdomyosarcoma and affects mainly adults. It is typically found in the extremities.


The treatment options for Rhabdomyosarcoma vary depending on the stage and location of the cancer. Generally, rhabdomyosarcoma is treated with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is typically the first step and is used to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Radiation therapy may be used to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chances of recurrence. Chemotherapy is also used to kill any remaining cancer cells and shrink the tumor. In some cases, targeted therapy, stem cell transplant, or immunotherapy may be recommended.


There is no known way to prevent Rhabdomyosarcoma. However, reducing the risk factors that increase a child’s risk of the disease may have an impact. These risk factors include family history, exposure to radiation, immunocompromised state, and time spent outdoors.

It is important for parents to ensure that their children are kept out of environments where radiation is present and to avoid giving them immunosuppressive drugs. Parents should also speak with their doctors about any concerns about their child’s family history of Rhabdomyosarcoma. Additionally, it is important to make sure that children get adequate outdoor activity and sunlight exposure, both of which can help reduce the risk of Rhabdomyosarcoma.

Gender differences?

Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of Rhabdomyosarcoma. According to the American Cancer Society, male patients tend to be diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma at a younger age than female patients and tend to be diagnosed with a more aggressive form of the disease. Female patients, on the other hand, tend to be diagnosed at an older age with a less aggressive form of Rhabdomyosarcoma. Treatment for Rhabdomyosarcoma may also differ for males and females, such as the type of chemotherapy used or the use of radiation therapy. Additionally, the response of male and female patients to chemotherapy and radiation therapy can vary, with male patients tending to respond more favorably to treatment than female patients.


Nutrition plays a vital role in the management of Rhabdomyosarcoma. Proper nutrition can help fight off the disease and maintain strength, energy levels, and overall health. Eating the right foods with adequate nutritional value will help support the body during cancer treatments and may help with recovery. It is important that patients with Rhabdomyosarcoma consume a balanced diet that is high in vitamin and mineral-rich foods, lean proteins, and carbohydrates for energy. Eating nutrient-dense foods is also important to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting. Additionally, staying hydrated is vital for proper immune system function, toxin removal, and to promote healing. Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and antioxidants may also help to support immune function and reduce inflammation. It is important to discuss nutritional needs with a doctor or nutritionist to determine the best individualized plan.

Physical Activity

Physical activity is an important factor to consider when managing Rhabdomyosarcoma. Depending on the severity or stage of the cancer, certain activities may be restricted or altered. In general, physical activity can help improve overall health and quality of life for those who have Rhabdomyosarcoma. Exercise can help maintain muscle mass and strength, as well as reduce fatigue and pain caused by the cancer. Physical activity can also help support healthy weight maintenance, as well as reduce stress and anxiety levels. On the other hand, physical activity can also put added strain on the body and cause fatigue and pain, so it is important to discuss activity levels and desired intensity with your doctor. It is important to start slowly and build up to desired activity levels and intensity, so the body can adjust. When it comes to physical activity, it is important to listen to your body and do what feels best for you.

Further Reading

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507721/
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/rhabdomyosarcoma/about/what-is-rhabdomyosarcoma.html
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rhabdomyosarcoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20390962
  4. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-29211-9_68
  5. https://www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/patient/rhabdomyosarcoma-treatment-pdq
  6. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/6226-rhabdomyosarcoma

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