What Is the Survival Rate of Rhabdomyosarcoma in Children?

Medically Reviewed on 5/11/2022
What Is the Survival Rate of Rhabdomyosarcoma in Children
Survival rates of rhabdomyosarcoma in children depend on factors such as risk group, tumor location, and extent of spread

Survival rates for children with rhabdomyosarcoma range from 70% to 90% and vary depending on whether it is identified as low-risk, intermediate-risk, or high-risk.

Survival rates are usually presented as a 5-year survival rate, indicating what percentage of people lived for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

What are risk groups for rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is divided into three groups depending on its spread in the body:

  • Low-risk group: Cancer tends to grow slowly, usually does not spread to other parts of the body, and may have a good chance of being cured
  • Intermediate-risk group: Cancer is unlikely to grow or spread for a few years
  • High-risk group: Cancer is widely spread in the body

5-year survival rates of rhabdomyosarcoma based on risk group

The 5-year survival rate of rhabdomyosarcoma in children under age 15 is 70% overall. The 5-year survival rate of teens between ages 15-19 years is 50%.

Table 1: 5-year relative survival rates of rhabdomyosarcoma
Group 5-year relative survival rate (in percent)
Low-risk 70% to >90%
Intermediate-risk 50% to 70%
High-risk 20% to 30%

Survival rates of rhabdomyosarcoma are often used as predictors of how long patients can live beyond a certain number of years (5-10 years) after diagnosis. However, survival rates vary widely depending on factors such as:

  • Stage and risk group
  • Tumor type
  • Tumor location
  • Surgery outcome
  • Child’s age (children ages 1-9 years have a better chance of recovery)

Consult your pediatrician to understand factors that may affect your child’s life expectancy after surgery.

What is rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that is more common in children and adolescents, with only about 500 cases each year in the United States. It is a type of soft-tissue cancer (sarcoma) that mainly develops in skeletal muscles, although it can also form in hollow organs such as the uterus or urinary bladder. 

Rhabdomyosarcoma can develop in any muscle of the body, but it is most common in the following places:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Urinary tract organs
  • Reproductive organs

What are the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma?

Symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma vary depending on its location and spread in the body and include the following:

Table 2: Signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma based on tumor location
Location of tumor Signs and symptoms
Neck, chest, back, arm, leg, or groin (including the testicles) Lump or swelling, pain, and redness
Around the eye Bulging eyes and vision problems
Ear or nasal sinuses Earache, headache, nosebleeds, or sinus congestion
Bladder or prostate Bloody urine and painful or difficult urination
Vagina Vaginal bleeding and abnormal vaginal discharge
Abdomen Vomiting, abdominal pain, or constipation

If rhabdomyosarcoma is more advanced or widespread in the body, it can cause symptoms such as:

Many of these symptoms may be due to conditions other than cancer. If your child’s symptoms have not resolved within a week, take them to the pediatrician.


Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images See Slideshow

How is rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosed?

Your pediatrician will perform a physical examination of your child and may order tests such as:

  • Biopsy (removal of a small amount of tissue for examination)
  • Immunocytochemistry tests (special stains done on the cells taken during the biopsy to help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis)
  • Genetic tests of tumor tissue (to look for any genetic abnormalities associated with the tumor)
  • Bone marrow biopsy (removal of a small amount of tissue from the bone marrow using a special needle for examination under a microscope)
  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging scan
  • Bone scan (use of a radioactive tracer injected into the person’s veins to look at the inside of the bones)
  • Positron emission tomography scan (usually combined with a CT scan to detect the spread of cancer in the body)

How is rhabdomyosarcoma treated?

If your child has been diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, your pediatrician will discuss various treatment options with you. In many cases, a combination of treatments may be recommended:

  • Surgery: Surgery aims to remove the cancerous mass from the affected part or organ along with some surrounding tissue.
  • Radiation: High-energy X-rays are focused on the affected part to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.
  • Chemotherapy: Most children receive chemotherapy to prevent cancer from coming back. It involves injections of medications that stop the cells from dividing and spreading anywhere else in the body.
  • Clinical trials: Because rhabdomyosarcoma is so rare, many people with the disease are treated as part of clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies that test the latest, most promising treatments for a disease. Ask your child’s doctor if your child can participate in clinical trials that test the use of new treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care, also called supportive care, aims at improving the quality of life of the affected person by treating symptoms of the disease and side effects of medications. Moreover, it may involve addressing emotional, mental, and social needs.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/11/2022
Image Source: iStock Image

Pediatric Rhabdomyosarcoma. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/988803-overview

Survival Rates for Rhabdomyosarcoma by Risk Group. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/rhabdomyosarcoma/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging-survival-rates.html#