Rhabdomyosarcoma - Childhood: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

Children with rhabdomyosarcoma may or may not experience the following signs or symptoms (see the table below). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Together, signs and symptoms can help describe a medical problem.

Some of the symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma can be vague or may be similar to those caused by other common childhood illnesses. If you are concerned about any changes your child experiences, please talk with your child’s doctor.

Because rhabdomyosarcoma frequently occurs in areas that cause noticeable symptoms, it is often diagnosed early. A small, visible, painless lump often forms near the surface of the body, where it is more easily spotted. The symptoms of a less obvious tumor can vary depending on where it is located in the body. A larger tumor may cause pain if it is pushing on nerves or other areas of the body.

Location of Tumor Symptom

Nasal cavity

Nosebleed

Symptoms similar to a sinus infection

Ear

Earaches, bleeding, or discharge from the ear canal

Mass growing from the ear canal

Behind the eye

May cause the eye to bulge or swell

May make the child look cross-eyed

Bladder, urinary tract, vagina, or testicle

May cause blood in the urine and make urinating difficult

Bleeding from the vagina

Mass growing from the vagina

Rapid growth around the testicles

Abdomen or pelvis

Abdominal pain

Vomiting

Constipation

Arm or leg muscle

Mass, growth, lump, or swelling in the leg or arm that may or may not be painful

If the cancer has spread, the child may experience a chronic cough, bone pain, enlarged lymph nodes, weakness, or weight loss.

Your child’s doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms your child is experiencing to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. This may include asking how long and how often your child has been experiencing the symptom(s).

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms and side effects remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called "palliative care" or "supportive care." It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your child’s health care team about the symptoms your child experiences, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.