What is Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma?

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  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2019
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Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is a rapidly growing, highly malignant type of cancer that normally affects children who are younger than 15 years old. This type of tumor is particularly aggressive and has a tendency to grow back unless it is completely eradicated. The prognosis for survival varies depending upon the age of the child and the location and size of the mass.

In children, embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma. It occurs when embryonic cells called rhabdomyoblasts, which are the cells that ultimately develop into skeletal muscle tissue, grow out of control and turn into cancerous tumors instead. Rhabdomyosarcoma tumors can grow in nearly any part of the body except for the brain.

This type of cancer usually occurs in four predominant areas of the body. It occurs most often around the head, neck and eyes. Rhabdomyosarcoma tumors might also form in the urinary tract and genital region, the arms and legs or in the lungs and chest.

Males have slightly higher rates of developing this type of cancer than females. Although all races are at risk, Asians are somewhat less susceptible than blacks or whites. The disease does not occur in any specific geographic region.


The symptoms of embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma might include a drooping eyelid or protruding eye if the tumor is located around the eyes. Patients might experience bleeding or pain in the nose, throat or genitalia or might have tingling, pain or a lack of sensation in the affected area. The patient might also have an evident tumor or growth.

The doctor will perform a biopsy to determine whether the patient has cancer. He or she also will perform a number of other tests, such as X-rays, bone scans, a biopsy of the bone marrow and computed tomography (CT) scans. The doctor might also look inside the body by performing ultrasounds or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is treated by surgically removing the tumor, by administering radiation or chemotherapy or through a combination of approaches.

Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is the most treatable form of rhabdomyosarcoma, depending on the age of the patient and where the tumor is located. Children younger than 12 months old have a generally poor prognosis. Patients whose tumors are located in the genital area, head and neck have higher survival rates than children whose tumors form in other areas of the body. The prognosis for embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is generally favorable as long as the cancer has not metastasized, or spread to other areas of the body.


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