What is Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of tumor. This specific type of tumor affects muscles that attach to bones. Skeletal muscles are generally the muscles that are under a person’s voluntary control. These are the muscles that develop rhabdomyosarcomas.

When a fetus is developing, there are cells known as rhabdomyoblasts that help with the development of muscle tissue. These cells are the ones that develop into a rhabdomyosarcoma. Due to the fact that this particular type of tumor develops in cells that are developmental, children are far more likely to develop a rhabdomyosarcoma than adults. However, anyone can suffer from this type of malignant tumor.

There are certain areas of the body that are more prone to developing rhabdomyosarcomas than others, including the neck, legs, arms, reproductive and urinary systems, and the head. Rhabdomyosarcomas do not have a specific known cause. There is a possibility that these tumors may have a genetic component in that a familial gene mutation may contribute. Other potential causes are certain birth defects and conditions that a child might be born with.

What are the Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma?

Generally, the first sign of a rhabdomyosarcoma is a mass on the muscle. This mass may cause pain but does not necessarily have to be painful. Other symptoms depend on where the tumor is located. For example, rhabdomyosarcomas in the face or head can cause headaches, congestion, and vision problems. On the other hand, a rhabdomyosarcoma in the pelvic area can cause problems with urination or bowel movements making these processes difficult or even painful. Other rhabdomyosarcoma locations can cause other issues.

Rhabdomyosarcoma Causes

While doctors and researchers know generally what causes tumors and cancer, for the time being they do know what exactly causes rhabdomyosarcomas. They know it happens because of changes in chromosomes that happen as cells split and reproduce. In some cases, the changes have been inherited from one or both parents, while other times the changes occur randomly.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a condition primarily found in children under the age of 10, although it sometimes develops in teenagers and adults. Boys are slightly more likely to develop it than girls.

Some inherited conditions are more likely to cause rhabdomyosarcomas than others. A family history of these inherited conditions is also a risk factor.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is more likely to occur in a child who is diagnosed with or comes from a family with a history of:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • Neufibromatosis type 1 (also known as von Recklinghausen syndrome)
  • Costello syndrome
  • Noonan syndrome

How is Rhabdomyosarcoma Treated?

Just like the symptoms depend upon the location of the rhabdomyosarcoma, the treatment depends on the location as well. Additionally, the exact stage of the cancer can affect what treatment is appropriate. If the tumor is easily accessible, surgical removal is likely the primary course of treatment. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also be treatment options. Sometimes, radiation therapy is used to prevent tumor growth and even shrink the tumor so that surgery is possible or chemotherapy can be more effective.

Rhabdomyosarcoma Prevention

With no known cause of this condition, there is no way to prevent rhabdomyosarcomas from occurring in children. In most cases of cancer in adults, there are lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce the risk of it developing, but rhabdomyosarcomas seem to be an exception, as all of the known risk factors to-date are themselves conditions that cannot be prevented. As a result, efforts at the moment are more heavily concentrated on treating rhabdomyosarcomas and the inherited conditions that cause them.

Knowing your family’s medical history can play a role in finding rhabdomyosarcomas in children and adults sooner. Because there are multiple conditions that can lead to them, knowing what those inherited conditions are and the likelihood that a person diagnosed with them will develop rhabdomyosarcomas from them is one way to aid in the early detection of them.