Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a rare, highly aggressive type of cancerous tumor that forms in the soft tissue, usually in the skeletal muscle tissue.
While RMS can start nearly in any part of the body, the most common sites include the head and neck, urinary and reproductive organs, arms, legs, chest, and abdomen. It is generally considered a childhood disease because the vast majority of cases occur in people under 18 years of age.
What are the different types of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS)?
RMS develops from the immature cells that have failed to fully differentiate into myocytes of the skeletal muscles. The main types of RMS are:
- Embryonal RMS:
- Most common of all types
- Occurs in the head and neck area or genital or urinary organs.
- Alveolar RMS:
- Most common in teenagers
- Occurs in the arms, legs, chest, abdomen, or genital area
- Botryoid RMS:
- Type of embryonal RMS
- Accounts for about 5%-10% of all RMS cases
- Occurs most often in children between the ages of 0-15 years
- Pleomorphic RMS:
- Affects the arms, legs, or trunk
- Usually occurs in adults and rarely in children
What are signs and symptoms of RMS?
Signs and symptoms of RMS depend on the location of cancer:
Head or neck area
- Bulging or swelling of the eyes
- Bleeding in the nose, throat, or ears
Urinary or reproductive system
- Trouble urinating and blood in the urine
- Difficulty with bowel movements
- Mass or bleeding in the vagina or rectum
Arms or legs
How is RMS diagnosed?
Your doctor will make a diagnosis of RMS after analyzing your medical history, symptoms, and results of your physical exam. They may also order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis, including:
- Imaging studies: These may include X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans to look for cancerous growths in your tissues.
- Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing a small amount of tissue from the tumor for examination under a microscope. It can be performed in several ways, depending on where cancer is suspected.
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: This removes a small amount of bone, blood, and bone marrow, usually from one or both the hip bones, to examine it for cancer cells.
- Lumbar puncture: Also called spinal tap, this involves using a needle to take fluid from the spine for testing.
How is RMS treated?
Treatment of RMS depends on what stage the cancer is in and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Generally, treatment may include one or more of the following:
- Chemotherapy: Medications are injected into the bloodstream to kill the cancer cells or stop them from dividing and spreading. Most children with RMS undergo chemotherapy to reduce the chance of cancer coming back.
- Surgery: Surgical removal, also called excision, is done in most RMS cases and involves cutting a part of or all the tumor and some tissue around it.
- Radiation: Radiation therapy involves using beams of intense energy (usually high-energy X-rays) to kill the cancer cells or slow their growth.
- Palliative care: Palliative care, also called supportive care, can be used to treat symptoms and medication side effects.
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