Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment

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Pediatric radiation oncologist Suzanne Wolden examines a young patient.

Pediatric radiation oncologist Suzanne Wolden examines a young patient.

Treatment Personalized to Your Child

Your child’s care plan depends on the type and stage of rhabdomyosarcoma. Typically, people with low-risk rhabdomyosarcoma need less therapy than those in the higher-risk groups. Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma may need more-intensive treatment than the embryonal type. Our team will explain how aggressive your child’s cancer is and the combination of treatments needed to treat it.

How is rhabdomyosarcoma treated?

At MSK Kids, we have a large arsenal of therapies to choose from to treat your child’s rhabdomyosarcoma, which include:

  • Chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery in some patients to remove the tumor completely.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), a very precise form of radiation therapy. Radiation beams of different intensities are aimed at the tumor from multiple angles to kill cancer cells while sparing nearby healthy tissue. We have found that varying the dose of IMRT in different areas of the tumor reduces side effects in some younger patients.
  • Proton therapy. This is an option for some children with rhabdomyosarcoma in certain areas, such as the eye or brain. Very narrow intense beams of protons are directed to the tumor but stop once they get there, killing cancer cells without affecting nearby healthy tissues. Your doctor will let you know if this is an option for your child.

After treatment, we perform an imaging test called a PET scan. This allows your child’s doctors to see how well the tumor responded to therapy. MSK Kids led a study that showed that this practice can help predict if rhabdomyosarcoma will be permanently controlled by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

What if my child’s tumor comes back?

If your child’s rhabdomyosarcoma stops responding to treatment, comes back, or spreads to other parts of the body, our team will create a new care plan. Treatment may include other types of chemotherapy as well as radiation and surgery. Your child may also be eligible to participate in a clinical trial of a new therapy.