Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is rhabdomyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancerous tumor that originates in the soft tissues of the body, including the muscles, tendons and connective tissues. The most common sites for this tumor to be found include the head, neck, bladder, vagina, arms, legs and trunk. Rhabdomyosarcoma also can be found in places where skeletal muscles are absent or very small, such as in the prostate, middle ear and bile duct system. The cancer cells associated with this disease can spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body.

Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common type, usually occurs in children under 6 years of age. Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma occurs in older children and accounts for about 20 percent of all cases.

Rhabdomyosarcoma accounts for about 3 percent of childhood cancers. In the U.S., about 350 children are diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma each year. This disease affects children between the ages of 2 and 20 years of age, but can occur at any age. For unknown reasons, males are affected slightly more often than females.