Rhabdomyosarcoma 

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a relatively uncommon malignancy that develops in mesenchymal cells, which form skeletal muscle tissue. This type of soft tissue sarcoma primarily affects children and is usually diagnosed before age 6. While a tumor can potentially develop anywhere in the body, the most common sites include the head, neck, arms, legs, trunk, pelvis and gastrointestinal tract. 

Rhabdomyosarcoma Causes 

Scientists continue to study how cellular DNA changes may lead to the development of rhabdomyosarcoma. Thus far, the condition has been definitively linked to Li-Fraumeni syndrome, an inherited familial predisposition to certain rare cancers caused by a mutation in TP53, a tumor suppressor gene. Additionally, children who are exposed to certain chemicals—such as those found in tobacco smoke—are believed to be at heightened risk for developing rhabdomyosarcoma. 

Rhabdomyosarcoma Symptoms 

The signs of rhabdomyosarcoma can vary based on the tumor site. For instance, a head tumor may affect hearing in one ear.  

Other symptoms can include: 

  • A palpable lump or swelling 
  • Bloody urine  
  • Crossed or bulging eyes 
  • Headaches, earaches, nasal congestion and nosebleeds 
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding 
  • Painful urination 
  • Vomiting, stomach pain and constipation

Rhabdomyosarcoma Diagnosis 

After taking a medical history and performing a physical examination, a physician will typically order an imaging test, such as an X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, ultrasound, bone scan or PET scan. If the results of preliminary diagnostic testing suggest rhabdomyosarcoma, the physician will generally order a tissue biopsy, a bone marrow aspiration or a lumbar puncture to confirm the diagnosis. 

Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment 

Most patients receive a customized combination of therapies based on the type and stage of the tumor and other unique factors. The main forms of treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma are: 

  • Surgery 
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy 


The nationally renowned pediatric surgeons at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) have vast experience in performing rhabdomyosarcoma surgery and other complex procedures. In addition to skilled surgeons, our well-rounded team includes hematologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pediatric physicians, nurses, social workers and supportive care specialists. Our pediatric hematology/oncology experts ensure that our young cancer patients have access to compassionate care as well as a comprehensive range of treatments, including groundbreaking clinical trials.