Rhabdomyosarcoma is a highly malignant sarcoma of muscle origin which accounts for over 50% of all sarcomas in children and young adults. Rhabdomyoblasts are cells that unite to eventually form skeletal muscles and connective tissues in the body.
Sarcoma is a type of tumor formed by the uncontrollable proliferation of rhabdomyoblast cells attacking the connective tissues of the body such as joint membranes, fat and muscles. Since this is cancer developed by embryonal rhabdomyoblasts, it is usually developed in children, even though it can evolve in adults as well. It not only affects the skeletal-muscular system such as arms and legs, but it can also be developed in the neck and head (i.e. around the eye sockets, throat, spine or shoulder), as well as reproductive organs and neighboring tissues such as prostates, bladder and female organs.
There are several types of rhabdosarcomas: embroynal rhabdosarcoma, alveolar rhabdosarcoma and anaplastic rhabdosarcoma. Embroynal and alveolar rhabdosarcomas are known to affect infants and children only, while anaplastic rhabdosarcomas of rare origin, and are known to develop in adults and rapidly spread in the body. This abnormal type of cancer is highly malignant and usually calls for intensive treatment. There are no direct risk factors for contracting rhabdosarcomas, although an unhealthy lifestyle such as heavy body weight, diet and smoking may increase the risks for contracting this type cancer in adults. Genetic conditions may play a larger role in a person’s tendency to develop rhabdosarcoma.
A genetic history of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Costello syndrome, Beckwith-Weidemann syndrome or neurofibromatosis may increase the risk of developing rhabdosarcoma. This type of cancer is difficult to diagnose and only one third of them are identified in early stages (i.e. if found in eyes sockets, sinus cavities or throat) in order to have it surgically removed. Other locations which are more difficult to detect, may not show any signs or symptoms until it has already developed enough to have a tendency to metastasize to other parts of the body.
The treatment for rhabdosarcoma can be very complex and time consuming and demands a team of experts in the sectors of oncology, surgery and radiotherapy. The greater number of cases, call for a combination of surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. The first line of treatment is surgical removal of the tumor, of which, in a number of cases, patients may be required to complement the treatment with chemotherapy or radiation. However, depending on the size, location, the stage it has developed into as well as the specific type rhabdosarcoma involved, the recommended line of treatment may be chemotherapy or radiation first, in order to condense the tumor, increasing the chances for a more successful surgical removal of the tumor. Whether the tumor has been surgically removed or not, all patients are recommended to receive chemotherapy before or after resection of the tumor, in order to rule out any microscopic spread to other parts of the body.
Nowadays, new treatment approaches have shown surprising and affirmative results. Treatments such as immunotherapy by manipulation monoclonal antibodies (manmade proteins injected into the body) or dendric cell therapy (another form immune therapy), as well as novel agents used in chemotherapy today, are known to lighter side effects on the body’s immune response to the disease, than conventional chemotherapy. One, or a combination of these treatments may well improve the prognosis and survival rate of this disease.