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About 400 to 500 new cases of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) occur each year in the United States. The number of new cases has not changed much over the past few decades.
Most rhabdomyosarcomas are diagnosed in children and teens, with more than half of them in children younger than 10 years old.
About 3% of all childhood cancers are RMS. These tumors are usually embryonal rhabdomyosarcomas (ERMS) and tend to develop in the head and neck area or in the genital and urinary tracts. Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) affects all age groups and is found more often in the arms, legs, or trunk (chest or abdomen).
RMS is slightly more common in boys than in girls. No particular race or ethnic group seems to have an unusually high rate of RMS.
The prognosis (outlook) for people with RMS depends on many factors, including the type of RMS, the location and size of the tumor, the results of surgery, and whether the cancer has metastasized (spread). Children aged 1 to 9 tend to have a better outlook than infants or older children or adults. Statistics related to survival are discussed in Survival Rates for Rhabdomyosarcoma by Risk Group.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2020. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2020.
National Cancer Institute. Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®). 2018. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/soft-tissue-sarcoma/hp/rhabdomyosarcoma-treatment-pdq on May 21, 2018.
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: January 8, 2020
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