What happens during and after treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma?
During and after treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), the main concerns for most families are the short- and long-term effects of the tumor and its treatment, and concerns about the tumor still being there or coming back.
It’s certainly normal to want to put the tumor and its treatment behind you and to get back to a life that doesn’t revolve around cancer. But it’s important to realize that close follow-up care is a central part of this process that offers your child the best chance for recovery and long-term survival.
Doctor visits and tests
Your child will probably have to return to the doctor often during chemotherapy for lab tests to look for low blood counts that could lead to bleeding or serious infection. The doctor will also check for other side effects from treatment. Your child may need blood transfusions to treat low blood counts or antibiotics to treat an infection.
Usually chemotherapy and follow-up testing will be done in the pediatric cancer center, but if the center is far from your home, the specialists involved in your child’s care can work with your local doctor to try to reduce your need to travel.
Once treatment is finished, the health care team will discuss a follow-up schedule with you, including which tests should be done and how often. For several years after treatment, it’s very important for your child to have regular follow-up exams with the cancer care team. The doctors will continue to watch for signs of disease, as well as for short-term and long-term side effects of treatment. Doctor visits will be more frequent at first, but the time between visits may get longer as time goes on.
Checkups after treatment of RMS include careful physical exams, lab tests, and sometimes imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scans. If the RMS comes back (recurs), it is usually within the first few years after treatment. As time goes by, the risk of recurrence goes down, although doctor visits are still important because some side effects of treatment might not show up until years later.
If the tumor comes back, or if it does not respond to treatment, your child’s doctors will discuss with you the various treatment options available (as discussed in “Rhabdomyosarcoma that progresses or recurs after initial treatment”).
Some side effects from the treatment of RMS might not show up until many years later, including effects on fertility and a risk of developing another type of cancer at a later time. It’s important to talk with your child’s doctors to understand what these risks are. (See the section “Possible late and long-term side effects of treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma” for more details.)
Last Medical Review: 11/20/2014
Last Revised: 11/21/2014