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Prognosis and survival for rhabdomyosarcoma

You may have questions about prognosis and survival for rhabdomyosarcoma. A prognosis is the doctor’s best estimate of how cancer will affect someone and how it will respond to treatment. Prognosis and survival depend on many factors. Only a doctor familiar with a child’s medical history, type of cancer, stage, characteristics of the cancer, treatments chosen and response to treatment can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

A prognostic factor is an aspect of the cancer or a characteristic of the child that the doctor will consider when making a prognosis. A predictive factor influences how a cancer will respond to a certain treatment. Prognostic and predictive factors are often discussed together and they both play a part in deciding on a treatment plan and a prognosis.

The following are prognostic and predictive factors for rhabdomyosarcoma.


Children between the ages of 1 and 9 tend to have a better prognosis than children 10 and older or younger than 1.

Where the tumour started

Where the tumour started in the body can affect prognosis. In general, rhabdomyosarcoma that starts in a place where it causes symptoms early is diagnosed earlier, so the tumour has less time to spread and the prognosis is better. Tumours that start in areas deeper within the body and that are difficult to reach with surgery have a poorer prognosis.

Tumours that begin in the area around the eye (called the orbit), areas of the head and neck not near the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord (called non-parameningeal sites), genitourinary organs (except the kidney, bladder or prostate), the gallbladder or the bile ducts have a more favourable prognosis. Tumours in any other location have a less favourable prognosis. This includes tumours that begin in the bladder, the prostate, an arm, leg, hand or foot, and areas of the head and neck near the meninges (called parameningeal sites). Tumours that start in an arm or leg tend to metastasize earlier than tumours in other parts of the body, so they have a poorer prognosis.

Tumour size

Children with tumours that are 5 cm or less in diameter have a better prognosis than children with larger tumours.

If the cancer has spread

Children with cancer that has already spread, or metastasized, to distant parts of the body when it is diagnosed have a poorer prognosis. Children with cancer that has spread to regional lymph nodes have a poorer prognosis than children with cancer that hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes. Children with cancer in the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS) have a poor prognosis.

If the tumour can be completely removed

How much cancer is left behind after surgery is also an important prognostic factor. Children with tumours that can be completely removed have the best prognosis.

Type of rhabdomyosarcoma

Alveolar tumours tend to be more aggressive and have a poorer prognosis than embryonal tumours.


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