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Treating Rhabdomyosarcoma TOPICS

How is rhabdomyosarcoma treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.

The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.

Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General approach to treatment

Treating rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is complex and requires the expertise of many different doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. Pediatric (or medical) oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, and oncology nurses will get together to plan the most effective treatment.

The treatment and prognosis (outlook) for patients with RMS depend to a large extent on the type of RMS and on how much of it can be removed with surgery. This is why it’s very important for patients to be diagnosed and treated by doctors who have experience with RMS. Children with RMS are best treated in a cancer center such as those who are members of the Children’s Oncology Group, where there is experience and expertise in treating childhood cancers.

The types of treatment that can be used for RMS include:

All children and adults with RMS will be treated with surgery to remove the tumor if it is possible to do so without causing major damage or disfigurement. In some cases, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be used first to try to shrink the tumor. If it shrinks enough, surgery may be done at this point. The goal is to remove the tumor completely, but this is often not possible.

Whether the tumor appears to have been removed completely or not, all patients with RMS should get chemotherapy. Without it, it is very likely that the cancer will come back at distant sites in the body because small amounts of cancer are almost always present in other parts of the body when the cancer is first diagnosed.

If cancer is left behind after surgery or if the cancer has some less favorable traits and it hasn’t spread to distant sites (as is the case most of the time), radiation therapy will also be given.

All of these treatments can have side effects, but many of them can be made less troublesome. Your medical team will help you take care of the side effects and will work closely with nutritionists, psychologists, and social workers to help you understand and deal with the medical problems, stress, and other issues related to treatment.

Because many of these things can be more complicated for cancer in children, many people will be involved in your child’s overall care. As a parent, taking care of a child with cancer can be a very big job. It is important to remember that you will have a lot of help. It is also important for you to know that the health care professionals who treat children with RMS are using the experience and knowledge gained from more than 30 years of detailed scientific study of treating this disease.

The next few sections describe in more detail the types of treatments used for RMS. See the “Additional resources for rhabdomyosarcoma” section for other information on the different types of cancer treatments and their side effects.

Last Medical Review: 08/13/2013
Last Revised: 08/13/2013