Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of sarcoma that can turn up in virtually any part of the body. Sadly, it is most common in children, which is why it’s worth learning a bit about this disease. Obviously, if you believe your child may be developing rhabdomyosarcoma, take them to the doctor immediately. As an adult, you could still be at risk as well. The following will give you a primer, though, so you’re better educated about this type of cancer.
Rhabdomyosarcoma and Age
Like we just touched on, rhabdomyosarcoma is most common in children. However, when it does occur in adults, it grows much faster and shows up in parts of the body that can make treatment much more difficult to execute. This is why rhabdomyosarcoma in adults is usually much harder to treat than in children.
Rhabdomyosarcoma and Your Body’s Muscles
Sarcoma is an umbrella term for a number of different cancers that develop from the body’s connective tissues. This includes bones, fat, muscles, blood vessels and the linings of joints. In a normal body, this connective tissue would be essential to its infrastructure and for proper functioning. When they become cancerous, though, the proliferation of these cells turns dangerous.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of sarcoma that is made from cells that would otherwise have become skeletal muscle. There are three main types of muscle:
- Cardiac, which is the main kind found in the heart.
- Smooth muscle is the kind you find in internal organs (not including the heart) like in the intestines and stomach. These muscles are involuntary.
- Skeletal muscles are the voluntary kind we use to control movement.
Even though most of us think about our muscles as being located in our arms, legs, chest and back, cancers that affect muscle cells like rhabdomyosarcoma can start just about anywhere in the body. This even includes areas that usually don’t have skeletal muscle.
Common Sites for Rhabdomyosarcoma
Nonetheless, doctors have identified five main areas where rhabdomyosarcoma is most likely to form. These five common areas are:
- The head and neck
- Arms and legs
- The chest and abdomen
- Urinary and reproductive organs
Again, though, it can begin to grow almost anywhere.
How Rhabdomyosarcoma Develops
At approximately seven weeks into development, cells called rhabdomyoblasts begin to develop in an embryo. These are the cells destined to become skeletal muscle in a healthy body. They’re also the ones that may become rhabdomyosarcoma.
The early development of rhabdomyoblasts explains why rhabdomyosarcoma usually affects children. It’s a cancer that originates from embryonal cells.
The Two Most Common Types of Rhabdomyosarcoma
Most children who get diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma will get the bad news during their first five years of life. Usually, it will be a type known as embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, which is also the most common kind of this cancer at any age.
Aside from the main kind, there are two other versions of this specific cancer as well: spindle cell and botyroid rhabdomyosarcoma. Patients with these two subtypes generally have better prognoses than those who have the conventional type of embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.
The second main type of rhabdomyosarcoma is called alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. This one spreads across all age groups equally, but is more common in teenagers than in younger children.
Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma is typically found in the legs, arms and trunks and tends to grow faster than embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. This is why it needs a much more aggressive plan for treatment.
There is a third kind of rhabdomyosarcoma, but it is extremely rare. Anoplastic rhabdomyosarcoma hardly ever affects children and is also very uncommon in adults.
Just like with any form of cancer, you want to begin treating rhabdomyosarcoma as soon as possible. If you notice any growths in the aforementioned areas, speak to a specialist right away.