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Treatment Options for Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma

For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.

Previously Untreated Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma

The treatment of childhood rhabdomyosarcoma often includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The order that these treatments are given depends on where in the body the tumor started, the size of the tumor, the type of tumor, and whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. See the Treatment Option Overview section of this summary for more information about surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy used to treat children with rhabdomyosarcoma.

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the brain and head and neck

  • For tumors of the brain: Treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
  • For tumors of the head and neck that are in or near the eye: Treatment may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If the tumor remains or comes back after treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, surgery to remove the eye and some tissues around the eye may be needed.
  • For tumors of the head and neck that are near the ear, nose, sinuses, or base of the skull but not in or near the eye: Treatment may include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
  • For tumors of the head and neck that are not in or near the eye and not near the ear, nose, sinuses, or base of the skull: Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery to remove the tumor.
  • For tumors of the head and neck that cannot be removed by surgery: Treatment may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy including stereotactic body radiation therapy.
  • For tumors of the larynx (voice box): Treatment may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery to remove the larynx is usually not done, so that the voice is not harmed.

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the arms or legs

  • Chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the tumor. If the tumor was not completely removed, a second surgery to remove the tumor may be done. Radiation therapy may also be given.
  • For tumors of the hand or foot, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be given. The tumor may not be removed because it would affect the function of the hand or foot.
  • Lymph node dissection (one or more lymph nodes are removed and a sample of tissue is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer).
    • For tumors in the arms, lymph nodes near the tumor and in the armpit area are removed.
    • For tumors in the legs, lymph nodes near the tumor and in the groin area are removed.

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the chest, abdomen, or pelvis

  • For tumors in the chest or abdomen (including the chest wall or abdominal wall): Surgery (wide local excision) may be done. If the tumor is large, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are given to shrink the tumor before surgery.
  • For tumors of the pelvis : Surgery (wide local excision) may be done. If the tumor is large, chemotherapy is given to shrink the tumor before surgery. Radiation therapy may be given after surgery.
  • For tumors of the diaphragm : A biopsy of the tumor is followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the tumor. Surgery may be done later to remove any remaining cancer cells.
  • For tumors of the gallbladder or bile ducts : A biopsy of the tumor is followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • For tumors of the muscles or tissues around the anus or between the vulva and the anus or the scrotum and the anus: Surgery is done to remove as much of the tumor as possible and some nearby lymph nodes, followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the kidney

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the bladder and prostate

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the area near the testicles

Rhabdomyosarcoma of the vulva, vagina, uterus, cervix, or ovary

Metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma

Treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery to remove the tumor, is given to the site where the tumor first formed. If the cancer has spread to the brain, spinal cord, or lungs, radiation therapy may also be given to the sites where the cancer has spread.

The following treatment is being studied for metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma :

Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with previously untreated childhood rhabdomyosarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your child's doctor about clinical trials that may be right for your child. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Recurrent Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma

Treatment options for recurrent childhood rhabdomyosarcoma are based on many factors, including where in the body the cancer has come back, what type of treatment the child had before, and the needs of the child.

Treatment of recurrent rhabdomyosarcoma may include one or more of the following:

Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood rhabdomyosarcoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your child's doctor about clinical trials that may be right for your child. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.


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