Types of rhabdomyosarcoma

Last medical review:

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a cancerous tumour of the muscle cells that can grow into nearby tissue and destroy it. The tumour can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours. There are 2 main types of RMS.

Embryonal RMS

Embryonal RMS is the most common type of RMS in children. It makes up about 50% to 70% of all rhabdomyosarcomas in children. It is more common in younger children and most commonly found in children under the age of 10 years.

Embryonal RMS can happen anywhere in the body but usually develops in the head and neck and in the organs of the reproductive system and urinary system.

Alveolar RMS

Alveolar RMS develops more often in older children and teens. About 20% of all RMS in children are alveolar. It can happen anywhere in the body but usually develops in the muscles of the arms and legs and the muscles of the chest and abdomen.

Rare types of RMS

The following are rare types of RMS.

Undifferentiated sarcoma is a type of sarcoma where the cells don't look like a specific type of soft tissue sarcoma. Doctors may group undifferentiated sarcomas with RMS.

Pleomorphic RMS is usually diagnosed in adults and is hard to treat. It is not usually found in children. Pleomorphic RMS may also be called anaplastic RMS.

Expert review and references

  • Paul Nathan, MD, MSc, FRCPC
  • Normand Laperriere, MD, FRCPC
  • PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board . Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment (PDQ®) – Health Professional Version . Bethesda, MD : National Cancer Institute ; 2020 : https://www.cancer.gov/.
  • 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.
  • Cripe TP . Medscape Reference: Pediatric Rhabdomyosarcoma. WebMD LLC; 2018: https://www.medscape.com/.
  • American Cancer Society. About Rhabdomyosarcoma. 2018: https://www.cancer.org/.
  • 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.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Cancer.net: Rhabdomyosarcoma - Childhood: Introduction. 2018: https://www.cancer.net/.

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