Rhabdomyosarcoma: Signs and Symptoms

Tuesday, April 03, 2012 Stef dela Cruz 2 Comments

Days ago, I wrote about how rhabdomyosarcoma can mimic many conditions. To learn about the definition of rhabdomyosarcoma and its risk factors, read about Rhabdomyosarcoma: Cancer That Deceives.

To continue, here are the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma and the reasons why this cancer mimics many benign conditions. As this commonly occurs in children, read on and find out about rhabdomyosarcoma signs and symptoms. Remember: seeing the symptoms early in your children means an earlier diagnosis and a better outcome.

Rhabdomyosarcoma: Signs and Symptoms

Now, here is where things get vague: rhabdomyosarcoma can manifest with any sign or symptom. Read on to find out how you can spot rhabdomyosarcoma if it your child has it.

  • The signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma depends on where the tumor grows. “For instance, if the tumor grows in the eyeball, the eye protrudes. If rhabdomyosarcoma is located in the throat, it can result in a hoarse voice. Rhabdomyosarcoma in the ear may manifest as recurrent ear discharge, which may be mistaken as a sign of chronic otitis media instead.
  • Other signs and symptoms accompany rhabdomyosarcoma, such as weakness, fatigability, fever, and loss of appetite. These are very general manifestations, but if you find your kid is suffering from any of them and you can’t explain why, it’s time to get him checked.

Rhabdomyosarcoma: Diagnosis and Treatment

Rhabdomyosarcoma may be hard to spot, but recurrent symptoms accompanied by other unexplained manifestations may help point to the diagnosis. Read on to find out how this type of cancer is diagnosed and treated.

  • A biopsy is the most important diagnostic test for rhabdomyosarcoma. A piece of tissue from the tumor is examined under the microscope. When the tumor is small enough, it can be excised completely, with biopsy becoming both diagnostic and partly therapeutic.
  • Other procedures are done to stage rhabdomyosarcoma. After a positive biopsy, CT scans, bone marrow biopsy, and/ or a PET scan may be done, depending on the signs and symptoms.
  • Tests to establish baseline function are also done. Chemotherapy will be done later on, necessitating the testing of kidney, bone marrow, and liver function.
  • There is no specific tumor marker in the blood to help detect rhabdomyosarcoma. Some cancers have specific tumor markers, making diagnosis more convenient. Unfortunately, this is not the case in rhabdomyosarcoma.
  • Surgery and chemotherapy are the standard treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma. Radiotherapy may or may not be included depending on the stage.
  • The use of a port-a-cath for prolonged chemotherapy is recommended. It is a type of central venous catheter that is discreet and unobtrusive, which means the child will remain unaffected, even when the catheter is left in place for the duration of chemotherapy.
  • Children should understand what rhabdomyosarcoma is. “A lot of children are confused by everything that is happening if you do not explain to them what is going on. They also become more cooperative if they understand,” explained Dr. Dy.

Rhabdomyosarcoma: Prognosis and Outcome

Rhabdomyosarcoma can lead to debility or death if not treated properly. Below is the expected outcome for patients with rhabdomyosarcoma.

  • At Stage I and II rhabdomyosarcoma, about 8 to 9 of every 10 children survive the first three years.
  • At Stage III, only 7 children survive in the first three years, owing to lymph node involvement.
  • At Stage IV, only one-fourth of patients survive because of distant spread to other body parts.

Stef dela CruzRhabdomyosarcoma may mimic many conditions, but when parents are educated about what it is and how it manifests, there is a better chance of catching it early and improving treatment outcomes. Knowing about the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma will alert you to suspicious manifestations. If your friend, brother, or sister has a child, share what you have learned today! Who knows? You might be saving the life of a child. And get updates by following me, Stef dela Cruz, MD, on Facebook.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!


  1. one reason why lymph nodes should not be taken for granted and regular check ups are also encourage, immunizations/vaccinations must be completed, this ailment is scary, i am very particular with my family's health ever since I became a mom, both of my sons are sickly :(

  2. I've been a sickly child, too, Ms. Joy. Some attribute it to a bad diet, one that is deficient in phytonutrients and antioxidants, because a "sickly" person has been found to have more inflammatory processes than a "healthy" person. (I will try to find the journal article that introduced this theory.)