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Also called: childhood rhabdomyosarcoma, embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma

What is rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of cancerous tumor that arises in the soft tissue, such as muscles.

Rhabdomyosarcoma can occur throughout childhood and may be present at birth.

Rhabdomyosarcoma in children differs from the form of the disease typically seen in adults. There are two types of rhabdomyosarcoma: embryonal and alveolar.

  • Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is seen most often in children under age 5. This form often affects the head and neck, bladder, vagina or prostate and testicles.
  • Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma occurs in all age groups and often affects the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk.

How common is rhabdomyosarcoma?

  • Soft tissue sarcomas account for about 7 to 8 percent of childhood cancers.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children.
  • About two-thirds of rhabdomyosarcoma cases are diagnosed in children younger than age 10.
  • More males than females and more caucasians than African-Americans develop rhabdomyosarcoma.

What are the symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma symptoms are similar to those of other cancers and may include:

  • A lump or swelling that does not go away
  • Bleeding in the nose, vagina or rectum
  • Constipation
  • Bulging eyes
  • Headaches

How is rhabdomyosarcoma treated?

Patients generally have surgery first.

  • Surgery—is used to biopsy the tumor (remove a small portion to be examined in a laboratory) and to remove the tumor or as much of it as possible

After surgery, all patients receive chemotherapy.

  • Chemotherapy (“chemo”)—uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing (dividing) and making more cancer cells:
    • Chemo may be injected, so that it can travel throughout the body.
    • Some chemo may be given by mouth.
    • Combination therapy uses more than one type of chemo at a time.

More surgery and/or radiation therapy may be used for some patients.

  • Radiation therapy—uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing:
    • External radiation uses machines outside the body to deliver the X-ray dose.
    • Internal radiation uses needles, seeds, wires or catheters (tubes) to deliver the radiation directly into or close to the cancer.

What are the survival rates for rhabdomyosarcoma?

  • Survival rates depend on factors such as tumor size and location and the amount of tumor that can be removed.
  • More than 70 percent of children with rhabdomyosarcoma that has not spread survive long-term.

Why choose St. Jude for your child’s rhabdomyosarcoma treatment?

  • St. Jude is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.
  • St. Jude has created more clinical trials for cancer than any other children’s hospital in the United States.
  • The nurse-to-patient ratio at St. Jude is unmatched—averaging 1:3 in hematology and oncology, and 1:1 in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital–Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project study recently identified drugs that kill rhabdomyosarcoma tumor cells growing in the laboratory. These drugs may make chemo more effective. The research also found that two types of rhabdomyosarcoma have different genetic causes. This study provided insights into why tumors sometimes come back after treatment. Scientists are conducting further studies based on this research.
  • St. Jude researchers are using a new drug combination after all therapy has finished to see if they can improve survival of children with high-risk features.
  • St. Jude staff members are using new imaging techniques such as diffusion-weighted MRI to see how tumors respond to treatment.
  • St. Jude scientists are trying to find the most effective treatment with the least amount of therapy that will cure children with low-risk rhabdomyosarcoma.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma treatment at St. Jude may involve proton therapy. St. Jude has the world’s only proton therapy center dedicated solely to the treatment of children. Proton therapy can deliver high radiation doses directly to tumors. This treatment spares normal tissues and reduces the side effects of traditional X-ray therapy. Because it is so precise, proton therapy reduces a child’s risk of having serious side effects and of developing other cancers later in life.

Associated Clinical Trials

ARST2032: Very Low-Risk and Low-Risk Rhabdomyosarcoma Study

A Prospective Phase 3 Study of Patients with Newly Diagnosed Very Low-Risk and Low-Risk Fusion Negative Rhabdomyosarcoma

Diseases Treated:



  • Enrolled in the APEC14B1 clinical trial and consent to DNA testing before being enrolled and treated on this ARST2032 trial.
  • Up to 21 years old
  • Newly diagnosed embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS), spindle cell/sclerosing RMS, or FOXO1 fusion negative alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) 
View Trial

PAINBDY1: Treating Pain in Children with Cancer: Pain Buddy

Treating Pain in Children with Cancer: A 21st Century Innovative Approach (Pain Buddy)

Diseases Treated:

Endocrine Tumors
Ewing Sarcoma


This is a research study open only to St. Jude patients and their caregivers.

  • 8 to 18 years old
  • Within 16 weeks of initial cancer diagnosis
  • Receiving outpatient chemotherapy treatment for cancer
  • Can speak, read and write English. Parents who can speak, read, and write in English and Spanish
  • Have Internet access
View Trial

RMS2021: Treatment of Intermediate- and High-risk Pediatric Rhabdomyosarcoma Using Molecular Risk Stratification and Liposomal Irinotecan

RMS2021: A Protocol for the Treatment of Newly Diagnosed Rhabdomyosarcoma Using Molecular Risk Stratification and Liposomal Irinotecan Based Therapy in Children with Intermediate- and High-risk Disease.

Diseases Treated:



  • Newly diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) of any subtype
  • Low-risk, intermediate-risk, or high-risk disease, as defined in the research protocol
  • Up to 21 years old
  • No prior radiotherapy or chemotherapy
  • No active infection
View Trial

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