Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment

Pediatric radiation oncologist Suzanne Wolden examines a young patient.

Pediatric radiation oncologist Suzanne Wolden examines a young patient.

The first line of treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma typically lasts between five and 12 months. We tailor our treatments to your child’s risk group and type of disease. In general, patients in the low-risk group need less therapy than those in the high-risk group, and alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma may need more-intensive therapy than embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.

Chemotherapy and Surgery

Rhabdomyosarcoma treatment usually includes chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and prevent new tumors from forming. A few patients have surgery after chemotherapy to take out the entire tumor.


Radiation therapy usually begins several months after chemotherapy starts. It’s another effective way of shrinking the tumor.

For some patients, we use an advanced, more-targeted radiation therapy called intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), which can help control the tumor and leave surrounding healthy tissue unharmed. Varying the dose of IMRT in different areas of the tumor has been shown to decrease side effects in some younger patients. For some patients, we use proton beam radiation therapy, which also decreases radiation exposure. This is important in tumors close to vital structures that are very sensitive to radiation, such as the eye.


Often we’ll do a PET scan after chemotherapy and radiation to see how the tumor responded to the treatments. MSK led a study that showed that this practice can help predict the chance that the rhabdomyosarcoma will be permanently controlled by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

If a child’s tumor recurs or spreads to other areas of the body, we offer many innovative treatments, including unique combinations of chemotherapy medicines, therapies that attack the tumor without hurting healthy cells, radiation, and surgery. Your child may also be able to take part in a rhabdomyosarcoma clinical trial.