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Signs and Symptoms of Rhabdomyosarcoma

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Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) can start nearly anywhere in the body, so the symptoms of RMS can be different in each person. The symptoms depend on where the tumor is, how large it is, and if it has spread to other parts of the body.

  • When the tumor is in the neck, chest, back, arm, leg, or groin (including the testicles), the first sign might be a lump or swelling. Sometimes it can cause pain, redness, or other problems.
  • Tumors around the eye can cause the eye to bulge out or the child to appear to be cross-eyed. Vision might be affected as well.
  • Tumors in the ear or nasal sinuses can cause an earache, headache, nosebleeds, or sinus congestion.
  • Tumors in the bladder or prostate can lead to blood in the urine, while a tumor in the vagina can cause vaginal bleeding. These tumors might grow big enough to make it hard or painful to urinate or have bowel movements.
  • Tumors in the abdomen or pelvis can cause vomiting, belly pain, or constipation.
  • RMS rarely develops in the bile ducts (small tubes leading from the liver to the intestines), but when it does it can cause yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice).
  • If RMS becomes more advanced, it can cause symptoms such as lumps under the skin (often in the neck, under the arm, or in the groin), bone pain, constant cough, weakness, or weight loss.

One or more of these symptoms usually leads to a visit to the doctor. Many of these signs and symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than RMS. For example, children and teens can have bumps or pain from play or sports injuries. Still, if you or your child has any of these symptoms and they don’t go away within a week or so (or if they get worse), see a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Okcu MF, Hicks J. Rhabdomyosarcoma in childhood and adolescence: Clinical presentation, diagnostic evaluation, and staging. UpToDate. Accessed at on May 24, 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

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