Rhabdomyosarcoma

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Can rhabdomyosarcoma be found early?

At this time, there are no widely recommended screening tests for rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). (Screening is testing for a disease such as cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms.)

Still, RMS often causes symptoms that allow it to be found before it has spread to other parts of the body. For example, small tumors that start in the muscles behind the eye often make the eye bulge. Tumors in the nasal cavity often cause nasal congestion, nosebleeds, or bloody mucus. When small lumps form near the surface of the body, children or their parents often see or feel them.

Many cases of RMS start in the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract and can cause trouble emptying the bladder or blood in the urine or in diapers. Tumors starting around the testicles in young boys can cause painless swelling that is often noticed early by a parent. In girls with RMS of the vagina, the tumor might cause bleeding or a mucus-like discharge from the vagina.

It can be harder to recognize tumors in the arms, legs, and trunks of older children because they often have pain or bumps from sports or play injuries.

There are many other causes of the symptoms above, and most of them are not serious, but it is important to have them checked by a doctor. This includes having your child’s doctor check out any pain, swelling, or lumps that grow quickly or don’t go away after a week or so.

About 1 in 3 of these cancers is found early enough so that all of the visible cancer can be removed completely by surgery. But even when this happens, very small tumors (which cannot be seen, felt, or detected by imaging tests) could already have spread to other parts of the body, which is why other treatments are needed as well.

Families known to carry inherited conditions that raise the risk of RMS (listed in “What are the risk factors for rhabdomyosarcoma?”) or that have several family members with cancer (particularly childhood cancers) should talk with their doctors about the possible need for more frequent checkups. It is not common for RMS to run in families, but close attention to possible early signs of cancer might help find it early, when treatment is most likely to be successful.


Last Medical Review: 11/20/2014
Last Revised: 11/21/2014