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Risk factors for rhabdomyosarcoma

A risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer. It could be a behaviour, substance or condition. Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. But sometimes rhabdomyosarcoma develops in children who don’t have any of the risk factors described below.

The following are risk factors for rhabdomyosarcoma. All of the known risk factors are not modifiable. This means that you can’t change them. Until we learn more about these risk factors, there are no specific ways you can reduce your child’s risk for rhabdomyosarcoma.

Risk factors are generally listed in order from most to least important. But in most cases, it is impossible to rank them with absolute certainty.

Known risk factors                                                

There is convincing evidence that the following rare hereditary cancer syndromes increase your child’s risk for rhabdomyosarcoma.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a rare inherited condition. It greatly increases the risk of developing several types of cancer in children and young adults, including rhabdomyosarcoma and other soft tissue sarcomas, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), breast cancer, brain tumours and leukemia.

Neurofibromatosis type 1

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (von Recklinghausen disease) is an inherited condition that affects the nervous system. It causes tumours to grow in the nerve tissue of the skin, skull and spinal cord. Children with neurofibromatosis type 1 have a higher risk of developing rhabdomyosarcoma, brain tumours, leukemia, and neuroblastoma.

Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome

Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome is an inherited disorder that affects how different parts of the body grow. Children with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome are born much larger than normal. They grow and gain weight at an unusual rate during childhood. In some children with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, specific parts of the body may grow unusually large, leading to an asymmetric or uneven appearance. Children with this syndrome have a higher risk of certain cancers, such as rhabdomyosarcoma and Wilms’ tumour.

Costello syndrome

Costello syndrome is a disorder that affects many parts of the body. Children with Costello syndrome often have delayed development, intellectual disability, distinctive facial features, loose folds of extra skin and unusually flexible joints. Children with Costello syndrome have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers, including rhabdomyosarcoma.

Noonan syndrome

Noonan syndrome is an inherited disorder that causes unusual development of many parts of the body. Children with Noonan syndrome have unusual facial characteristics, short stature, heart defects and bleeding problems. Their skeletons don’t develop normally and they have a higher risk for rhabdomyosarcoma.

Unknown risk factors

It isn’t known whether or not the following factors are linked with rhabdomyosarcoma. It may be that researchers can’t show a definite link or that studies have had different results. Further study is needed to see if the following are risk factors for rhabdomyosarcoma.

One study linked babies who are large for their age before they are born (age in the womb or gestational age) and babies with a high birth weight with an increased risk of rhabdomyosarcoma.

A study looked at parents who used marijuana and cocaine before pregnancy. It showed that there may be a higher risk that their children will develop rhabdomyosarcoma. A mother using marijuana in the year before the child’s birth was associated with a 3 times greater risk of rhabdomyosarcoma in the child. A mother using cocaine was also associated with an earlier age at diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma.

One study suggested that exposure to low levels of radiation, such as from x-rays or CT scans, before birth is associated with a greater risk of developing rhabdomyosarcoma.

Questions to ask your healthcare team

Ask your child’s healthcare team questions about risks.


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