Social, Emotional, and Other Issues in Treating Rhabdomyosarcoma

Social and emotional issues might come up both during and after treatment. Factors such as the person’s age when diagnosed and the extent of treatment can play a role here.

Most often, rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) develops during a very sensitive time in a young person’s life. RMS and its treatment can have a profound effect on how a person looks and how they view themselves and their body. It can also affect how they do some everyday tasks, including certain school, work, or recreational activities. These effects are often greatest during the first year of treatment, but they can last a long time in some people. It’s important that the treating center assess the family situation as soon as possible, so that any areas of concern can be addressed.

Many experts recommend that school-aged patients attend school as much as possible. This can help them maintain a sense of daily routine and keep their friends informed about what is happening.

Friends can be a great source of support, but patients and parents should know that some people have misunderstandings and fears about cancer. Some cancer centers have a school re-entry program that can help in these situations. In this program, health educators visit the school and tell students about the diagnosis, treatment, and changes that the cancer patient may go through. They also answer any questions from teachers and classmates. (For more information, see our document Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Returning to School.)

Centers that treat many patients with RMS may have programs to introduce new patients to children or teens who have finished their treatment. This can give patients an idea of what to expect during and after treatment, which is very important. Seeing another patient with RMS doing well after treatment is often helpful. Support groups also might be helpful.

Parents and other family members can also be affected, both emotionally and in other ways. Some common family concerns during treatment include financial stresses, traveling to and staying near the cancer center, the possible loss of a job, and the need for home schooling. Social workers and other professionals at treatment centers can help families sort through these issues.

During treatment, patients and their families tend to focus on the daily aspects of getting through it and beating the cancer. But once treatment is finished, a number of emotional concerns can come up. Some of these might last a long time. They can include things like:

  • Dealing with physical changes that can result from the treatment
  • Worrying about the cancer returning or new health problems developing
  • Feeling resentful for having had cancer or having to go through treatment when others do not
  • Worrying about being treated differently or discriminated against (by friends, classmates, coworkers, employers, etc.)
  • Being concerned about dating, marrying, and having a family later in life

No one chooses to have RMS, but for many children and teens, the experience can eventually be positive, helping to establish strong self-values. Others may have a harder time recovering, adjusting to life after cancer, and moving on. It is normal to have some anxiety or other emotional reactions after treatment, but feeling overly worried, depressed, or angry can affect many parts of a young person’s growth. It can get in the way of relationships, school, work, and other aspects of life.

With support from family, friends, other survivors, mental health professionals, and others, many people who have survived cancer can thrive in spite of the challenges they’ve had to face. If needed, doctors and other members of the health care team can recommend special support programs and services to help after cancer treatment.

Although the psychological impact of this disease on children and teens is most obvious, adults with this disease face many of the same challenges. They should also be encouraged to take advantage of the cancer center’s physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling services.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: November 20, 2014 Last Revised: November 21, 2014

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