The Greek origins of the word mean:
A sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that develops in bone, muscle or cartilage.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue sarcoma found in children. It can develop in muscle, fat, blood vessels or any other tissue that supports, surrounds and protects the organs of the body. It can grow almost anywhere but is most commonly found in the head and neck, the pelvic organs or near the testes. Less commonly, tumours occur in limb muscles, the chest or abdominal wall.
Find out more about Rhabdomyosarcoma on the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) website.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is often shortened to rhabdo or RMS.
There are different types and the prognosis varies a lot depending on which type of rhabdomyosarcoma the patient has.
Once you have a diagnosis, rhabdo may be shortened to ARMS (alveolar), ERMS (embryonal), or another abbreviation ending RMS, prefixed by letters indicating the type, location, or both.
Research has highlighted the importance of ‘fusion testing’ in addition to histological classification at diagnosis so that patients can be allocated to appropriate low, intermediate or high risk groups and their treatment tailored appropriately.
Read this paper for more information about the complexities of rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosis. The summary states that ‘poor outcomes associated with ARMS likely relates to the presence of PAX-FOXO1 fusion genes and not to histological features’.
This is why research is so vital for this disease; there is still a lot to understand and effective medicines to find. There is currently no known cure for relapsed metastatic alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.
8% of childhood deaths in Scotland from 2014 to 2019 were cancer related.
Rhabdomyosarcoma accounts for 5% of the childhood cancer deaths in Scotland during the same period.
This means that 0.4% of childhood deaths in Scotland are due to rhabdomyosarcoma. It is rare. It is considered an ‘orphan’ disease.
Because it’s rare, it gets little publicity, little funding and little progress is therefore made to change the prognosis for children diagnosed with the worst forms.
Standard treatment consists of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Some patients may receive brachytherapy and/or proton beam therapy.
First and second line treatment follows a standard protocol within the UK.
Lots of websites providing information about treatment for rhabdo mention surgery. Apart from biopsies, central line and gastrostomy tube insertions, Ruby didn’t have any surgery. Why? There was no point. At diagnosis the disease was so widespread it would have made no difference to her prognosis. To remove the tumour in her ankle would have meant amputation which would have ruined her quality of life. The tumours in her spine were considered unresectable (not capable of being surgically removed).
We advise any parent facing a diagnosis to request a second opinion about surgery if it’s not offered.