Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer that occurs in muscle cells and tends to occur in children 1-5 years old. There are 3 main types:
  • Embryonal—often occurs in the head, neck, or genital or urinary organs
  • Alveolar—often occurs in the arms, legs, chest, abdomen, or genital or anal areas
  • Anaplastic—rarely occurs in children
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Cancer cells also invade and destroy nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer Growth
Cancer Cell Division
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The exact cause is unknown. A combination of environmental and genetic factors probably play a role.

Risk Factors

Certain inherited diseases may increase the chance of rhabdomyosarcoma such as:
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • Costello syndrome
  • Noonan syndrome
Babies may have an increased risk for embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma if the baby:
  • Has high birth weight
  • Is larger than expected


In the early stages, the cancer is small and does not cause symptoms. As it grows, the tumor may create a lump or swelling. The tumor may then start to push on nearby normal structures and cause symptoms. Symptoms will vary, depending on where the tumor is and what it is affecting. For example, tumors found in the:
  • Head may cause blockage or discharge of the nose or sinus, facial paralysis, or a hoarse voice
  • Eye may make the eyes stick out or appear larger and affect eye sight
  • Lung may cause coughing and breathlessness
  • Bladder or bowel may cause abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, or trouble urinating
  • Uterus may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina and pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen
General symptoms may also include fatigue, feeling generally ill, and weight loss.

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