Symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma

Last medical review:

The signs or symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) vary depending on the location of the tumour. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as RMS.

The most common sign of RMS is a lump or swelling, such as in the arms or legs, that doesn't go away and gets bigger over time. It may or may not be painful.

RMS can develop in any muscle in the body.

When RMS starts around the eye or in the eyelid, it may cause:

  • a bulging eye
  • a drooping eyelid
  • crossed eyes
  • a swollen eyelid
  • redness or infection around the eye

When RMS starts in the head and neck area, it may cause:

  • a painless lump or swelling
  • one side of the face to look different from the other (called facial asymmetry)
  • blurred vision
  • a swollen face
  • a stuffy nose
  • breathing problems
  • discharge or bleeding from the nose, throat or ear
  • pain in the face
  • headaches or earaches
  • paralyzed nerves in the face (called palsy)
  • hearing loss

When RMS starts in the abdomen or pelvis, it may cause:

  • an enlarged abdomen
  • a lump in the abdomen
  • pain in the abdomen
  • vomiting
  • constipation

When RMS starts in the bladder or prostate, it may cause:

  • blood in the urine (pee)
  • problems peeing
  • pain when peeing

When RMS starts around the testicles or in the vagina or uterus, it may cause:

  • a painless lump
  • discharge or bleeding from the vagina

It is rare for RMS to start in the bile ducts. When it does, it may cause yellowing of the eyes or skin (called jaundice).

Expert review and references

  • Paul Nathan, MD, MSc, FRCPC
  • Normand Laperriere, MD, FRCPC
  • American Cancer Society. Rhabdomyosarcoma Early Dectection, Diagnosis, and Staging. 2018: https://www.cancer.org/.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Cancer.net: Rhabdomyosarcoma - Childhood: Symptoms and Signs. 2018: https://www.cancer.net/.
  • Cripe TP . Medscape Reference: Pediatric Rhabdomyosarcoma. WebMD LLC; 2018: https://www.medscape.com/.
  • PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board . Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®) – Patient Version . Bethesda, MD : National Cancer Institute ; 2019 : https://www.cancer.gov/.
  • 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.