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Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in soft tissues of the body. One of the areas that this disease can affect is the genitourinary tract, where it can cause tumors in the bladder, kidneys, testes, prostate, vulva, or vagina. Certain genetic conditions can increase the risk of rhabdomyosarcoma, but in most cases, the cause is not known.

Signs & symptoms

If rhabdomyosarcoma occurs in the genitourinary tract, a patient may have pain or difficulty in emptying the bladder or bowels. There may also be blood in the urine. Rhabdomyosarcoma can cause areas of swelling as the tumor grows.


When rhabdomyosarcoma is suspected, your child’s doctor will perform imaging studies and a tissue biopsy to confirm the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy can also help determine what type of rhabdomyosarcoma a child has, which affects treatment decisions.


Because rhabdomyosarcoma is relatively rare, it is important for a child to be evaluated and treated in a multidisciplinary specialty clinic where experts can determine the best course of action. Depending on the type of rhabdomyosarcoma and how widespread the cancer is, treatment can include the following:

  • Surgery to completely remove the cancer is performed whenever possible. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery to make the tumor smaller and reduce the amount of tissue that needs to be removed during surgery.
  • Radiation therapy which uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
  • Chemotherapy may be used to treat childhood soft tissue sarcoma. Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Chemotherapy can be either systemic, reaching cancer cells throughout the body via the bloodstream, or regional, targeting cancer cells in specific body parts or areas.
  • Hormone therapy which removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery or radiation therapy are used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.

Depending on the type of tumor a child has and whether it has spread (metastasized), a child may require regular follow-up visits to check for any recurrence of disease.

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your child's doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your child's provider.

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