A risk factor is anything that affects the chance of having a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors.
Lifestyle-related risk factors such as body weight, physical activity, diet, and tobacco use play a major role in many adult cancers. But these factors usually take many years to influence cancer risk, and they are not thought to play much of a role in cancers that are more common in childhood, including rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS).
RMS is most common in children younger than 10, but it can also develop in teens and adults. It is slightly more common in boys than in girls.
Some people have a tendency to develop certain types of cancer because they have inherited changes in their DNA (genes) from their parents. Some rare inherited conditions increase the risk of RMS (and usually some other tumors as well):
These conditions are rare and account for only a small fraction of RMS cases. But they suggest that the key to understanding RMS might come from studying genes and how they work in very early life to control cell growth and development.
Some studies have suggested that being exposed to x-rays before birth might be linked with an increased risk of RMS in young children. Parental use of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine has been suggested as a possible risk factor as well. But the studies that have found these links have been small, and more research is needed to see if these factors are truly linked to RMS.
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Okcu MF, Hicks J. Rhabdomyosarcoma in childhood and adolescence: Epidemiology, pathology, and molecular pathogenesis. UpToDate. Accessed at www.uptodate.com/contents/rhabdomyosarcoma-in-childhood-and-adolescence-epidemiology-pathology-and-molecular-pathogenesis on May 21, 2018.
Wexler LH, Skapek SX, Helman LJ. Chapter 31: Rhabdomyosarcoma. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016.
Last Revised: July 16, 2018