Rhabdomyosarcoma or RMS can be defined as a rare type of cancer wherein proliferation of cancer cells chiefly takes place in the soft tissues specifically in the skeletal muscle tissues and sometimes even in the hollow organs such as the bladder or uterus. Although RMS can occur at any age, it most often affects children and younger adults. Rhabdomyosarcoma can arise at any part of the body but more commonly it starts metastasizing in the head and neck area, reproductive system such as the vagina, uterus and testicles, arms and legs, and the urinary system including the bladder.

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Rhabdomyosarcoma can be categorised into 3 main types including:

Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma:

This type of RMS usually affects young children, under the age of 6. It is more commonly diagnosed in the head and neck region, especially in the tissues around the eye (known as orbital rhabdomyosarcoma). Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma can also occur in the womb, vagina, bladder or the prostate gland. It is further subdivided into sarcoma botryoides, which mostly occurs in the bladder or vagina and usually looks like a bunch of grapes.

Pleomorphic Rhabdomyosarcoma:

Another type of RMS, it usually occurs in middle-aged adults. The Pleomorphic Rhabdomyosarcoma is chiefly treated with the help of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.

Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma:

Alveolar RMS is chiefly diagnosed in the chest or abdomen area and also in the arms and legs. It is more common in older children and young adults.


Just like other forms of cancer, the exact cause of Rhabdomyosarcoma is yet to be discovered. However, several studies suggest that it usually happens when there are certain changes or mutation in the cellular material, i.e. the DNA, that invariably make the cells grow abnormally without dying and causing them to accumulate together leading to tumorous growths. These tumors can often break free from the original site and spread to different parts of the body.

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Risk Factors

Some causative factors that increase the risk of rhabdomyosarcoma includes:

Genetic Syndromes: Individuals diagnosed with Noonan syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Neurofibromatosis 1, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome and Costello syndrome are more at risk of getting rhabdomyosarcoma.

Family History Of Cancer: People with parents or close relatives suffering from other forms of cancer have aggravated chances of getting diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma.

Exposure To Chemicals: Getting exposed to certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, dioxin, arsenic, and herbicides that contain phenoxyacetic acid increases the risk of developing rhabdomyosarcoma.

Exposure To Radiations: Exposure to radiations or radiation therapy during the treatment of other forms of cancer like prostate cancer, breast cancer, or lymphomas makes a person more prone to rhabdomyosarcoma.


The common signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma usually depends upon the site of tumor. This includes:

Head And Neck Area

  • Intense headache
  • Bulging or swelling of the eyes
  • Bleeding in the throat, nose, or ears

Urinary or Reproductive Area

  • Trouble while urinating
  • Presence of blood in the urine
  • Difficulty with bowel movements
  • A mass or unusual bleeding in the vagina or rectal area

Arms Or Legs

  • Swelling or a lump in the arm or leg
  • Pain in the affected part


If the cancer is not treated on time, it can get complicated. Quite often rhabdomyosarcoma can break free from the original site and travel to other parts of the body, especially lungs, lymph nodes and bones causing other forms of cancer.

Diagnosis And Treatment

If you notice any of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms, do consult a doctor right away to get diagnosed and treated at the earliest. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup to look for any lumps or masses on the arms or legs, lower abdominal area, neck region, presses the area slightly to know if it pains, acknowledges the patients past medical history and family history and conducts some diagnostics. These include:

  • Imaging techniques including Bone scan, CT-scan, MRI-scan, PET-scan, X-ray, and Ultrasound
  • Biopsy


The available treatment options usually depend upon the site of tumor, size of the tumor and its severity. This includes:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy