Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Rare Cancer in Children

It is always heartbreaking when children have cancer. Usually cancer in children affects the blood cells or brain. A very rare cancer in children is rhabdomyosarcoma. Where is this cancer located in a child's body?

Fewer than 60 children are diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in the UK each year. About the same number in the United States. Most of them are younger than 10 years old. It's more common in boys than girls.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common of the soft tissue sarcomas in children. These tumors develop from muscle or fibrous tissue and can grow in any part of the body.
The most common areas of the body to be affected are around the head and neck, the bladder or the testes. Sometimes tumours are also found in a muscle or a limb, in the chest or in the abdominal wall. If the tumour is in the head or neck region, it can occasionally spread into the brain or the fluid around the spinal cord.

What causes this disease is unknown. Children who have rare genetic disorders are more prone to have rhabdommyosarcoma.

                               Image of rhabdomyosarcoma that has been removed from a child's body.

The images of the children with this cancer are very disturbing so they will not be displayed.

The signs and symptoms will depend on the part of the body that's affected by the rhabdomyosarcoma. The most common sign is a swelling or lump.
  • If the tumor is in the head area, it can sometimes cause a blockage (obstruction) and a discharge from the nose or throat. Occasionally, an eye may appear swollen and protruding.
  • If the tumor is in the abdomen (tummy), your child may have discomfort in the abdomen and difficulty going to the toilet.
  • If the tumor is in the bladder, your child may have blood in the urine and difficulty passing urine.  
A variety of tests and investigations may be needed to diagnose a rhabdomyosarcoma. A small operation may be needed to remove a sample from the tumour to be looked at under a microscope. This called a biopsy. It's usually done under a general anaesthetic.
Various tests may be done to check the exact size of the tumour and whether it has spread to any other part of the body. These may include:
  • a chest x-ray to check the lungs
  • an ultrasound
  • CT or MRI scans
  • blood and bone marrow tests.
Any tests and investigations that your child needs will be explained to you. The booklet A parent's guide to children's cancer gives details of what the tests and scans involve.

Rhabdomyosarcomas are rare tumours and should be treated at specialist centres. 
Treatment depends upon the size of the tumour, its position within the body, and whether it has spread. Treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma usually includes surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.


If at all possible, surgery will be used to remove the tumour. Chemotherapy, using a combination of drugs, is often given before surgery to shrink the tumour. Radiotherapy may also be given to the area of the tumour, particularly if it cannot be completely removed by surgery.


If the tumour cannot be removed with surgery, treatment will usually involve a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells and is usually given every three weeks. It may be given to shrink the tumour before surgery or with radiotherapy when the tumour can't be removed by surgery. The drugs used and the length of treatment depends on the type and stage of the rhabdomyosarcoma.


Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays, which destroy the cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. It's given to the area where the rhabdomyosarcoma occurs.

Side effects of treatment 

Treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma often causes side effects, and your child’s doctor will discuss this with you before treatment starts. Any possible side effects will depend on the particular treatment being given and the part of the body that's being treated.
Chemotherapy can make your child feel better by relieving the symptoms of the cancer, but it can sometimes have side effects such as feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting), hair loss, an increased risk of infection, bruising and bleeding, tiredness and diarrhoea.

Late side effects

A small number of children may develop side effects many years after their treatment for a rhabdomyosarcoma. Long-term side effects depend on the type of treatment used, and may include a possible reduction in bone growth, infertility, a change in the way the heart and the kidneys work, and a slight increase in the risk of developing another cancer in later life.
Your child’s doctor or nurse will talk to you about any possible late side effects. There is more detailed information about these late side effects in the booklet A parent’s guide to children’s cancer.

                                        Mayo Clinic Oncologist Explains Rhabdomyosarcoma

                                       Holly's Journey Dealing With This Rare Cancer


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