Prognosis and survival for rhabdomyosarcoma

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If your child has rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), you may have questions about the prognosis (outcome). A prognosis is the doctor's best estimate of how cancer will affect someone and how it will respond to treatment. Prognosis and survival depend on many things. Only a doctor familiar with a child's medical history, the type, stage and characteristics of the cancer, the treatments chosen and the response to treatment can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

A prognostic factor is an aspect of the cancer or a characteristic of the child that the doctor will consider when making a prognosis. A predictive factor influences how a cancer will respond to a certain treatment. Prognostic and predictive factors are often discussed together. They both play a part in deciding on a treatment plan and a prognosis.

The following are prognostic and predictive factors for RMS.


Children between the ages of 1 and 9 years tend to have a better prognosis than children 10 years of age and older or younger than 1 year.

Where the tumour started

Where the tumour started in the body can affect the prognosis.

There is a better prognosis with tumours that begin in:

  • the area around the eye (called the orbit)
  • areas of the head and neck not near the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord (called non-parameningeal areas)
  • organs of the genitourinary system (except the kidney, bladder and prostate)
  • the gallbladder or the bile ducts

Tumours in any other location have a poorer prognosis. This includes tumours that begin in:

  • the bladder, prostate, arm, leg, hand or foot
  • areas of the head and neck near the meninges (called parameningeal areas)

Tumours that start in the arm or leg tend to spread to other areas earlier than tumours that start in other parts of the body, so they have a poorer prognosis.

Tumour size

Children with tumours that are 5 cm or less in diameter have a better prognosis than children with larger tumours.

If the cancer has spread

Children with cancer that has already spread, or metastasized, to distant parts of the body when it is diagnosed have a poorer prognosis. Children with cancer that has spread to regional lymph nodes have a poorer prognosis than children with cancer that hasn't spread to any lymph nodes. Children with cancer in the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS) have a poor prognosis.

If the tumour can be completely removed

How much cancer is left behind after surgery is also an important prognostic factor. Children with tumours that can be completely removed usually have a better prognosis.

Type of rhabdomyosarcoma

Alveolar tumours tend to be more aggressive and have a poorer prognosis than embryonal tumours.

Expert review and references

  • Paul Nathan, MD, MSc, FRCPC
  • Normand Laperriere, MD, FRCPC
  • PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board . Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®) – Patient Version . Bethesda, MD : National Cancer Institute ; 2019 :
  • American Cancer Society. About Rhabdomyosarcoma. 2018:
  • American Cancer Society. Rhabdomyosarcoma Early Dectection, Diagnosis, and Staging. 2018:
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma. Provincial Health Services Authority. Musculoskeletal and Sarcoma. Vancouver, BC: Friday, March 20, 2020.
  • PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board . Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®) – Health Professional Version . Bethesda, MD : National Cancer Institute ; 2020 :
  • Wexler LH, Skapek SX, Helman LJ. Rhabdomyosarcoma. Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds.. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2016: 31:798–827.
  • Singer S, Tap WD, Kirsch DG, Crago AM. Soft tissue sarcoma. DeVita VT Jr., Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2019: 88:1400–1450.

Survival statistics for rhabdomyosarcoma

There are survival statistics reported for rhabdomyosarcoma. Learn about observed survival and survival by risk group of rhabdomyosarcoma.

Medical disclaimer

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