Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment

At Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, our approach to a rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosis and treatment provides better outcomes and gives you access to the most advanced treatment, surgical techniques and clinical trials. The sarcoma program combines the expertise of physicians, nurses and experienced clinical and supportive professionals to provide a team approach to sarcoma treatment.

Our program includes doctors from all the fields necessary to properly treat and diagnose rhabdomyosarcoma, including specialists in:

  • Orthopaedic oncology
  • Surgical oncology
  • Medical oncology
  • Radiation oncology
  • Diagnostic radiology
  • Pathology
  • Physical therapy

Following the diagnosis and staging of rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer specialists at Penn Medicine develop a treatment plan tailored to your particular needs. Our treatment options for rhabdomyosarcoma include:

Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapies for Rhabdomyosarcoma

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop their growth. Chemotherapy may be given through a pill, an IV, or an injection.

Chemotherapy for rhabdomyosarcoma may be used before surgery, after surgery or in conjunction with other therapies.

Targeted therapies are newer types of therapy designed to kill cancer cells without harming other, healthy cells and tissue. At Penn Medicine, we are pioneers in the development and use of targeted therapies and are backed by robust programs to further research in the area of soft tissue sarcomas treatment.

Clinical Trials for Rhabdomyosarcoma

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials benefit patients with access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day at Penn Medicine, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead.

Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more successful.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

Radiation Therapy for Rhabdomyosarcoma

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. A radiation therapy schedule usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over an extended period of time.

Proton Therapy

At the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, we offer the largest and most advanced facility in the world for this precise form of cancer radiation. You will have access to one of the most sophisticated weapons against cancer, seamlessly integrated with the full range of oncology services available at the Abramson Cancer Center. Proton therapy is an external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor.

The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Proton therapy, like all forms of radiation therapy, works by aiming the energized particles, in this case protons, onto the target tumor. The particles damage the DNA of cells, ultimately causing their death. Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.

Learn more about proton therapy for sarcoma.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

This advanced type of radiotherapy uses a computer-controlled device, called a linear accelerator, to deliver precise doses of radiation to tumors or specific areas within the tumors. Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.

Using 4D computed tomography (CT) images along with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the shape of the tumor by controlling, or modulating, the intensity of the radiation beam while tracking any movement of the tumor. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be delivered to areas within the tumor while minimizing the dose to the surrounding area.

3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy

The imaging technology used by radiation oncologists at Penn helps shape the radiation treatment beam to the shape of the tumor. Known as conformal radiation therapy, this technology gives doctors more control when treating tumors.

In conformal radiation, a special computer uses CT imaging scans to create 3-D maps of the cancer's location in the body. The system permits the delivery of radiation from several directions and the beams can then be shaped, or conformed, to match the shape of the cancer. Conformal radiation therapy limits radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue as well as the tissue in the beam's path.

Surgery for Rhabdomyosarcoma

Surgery for rhabdomyosarcoma is always performed when possible.

Wide Local Excision

Wide local excision for rhabdomyosarcoma removes tumor as well as some healthy tissue around it. The surgery may also remove some lymph nodes.

Lymph Node Dissection (Lymphadenectomy)

In this procedure, your surgeon removes one or more groups of affected lymph nodes from the body in the area of the tumor. The removed lymph nodes are then examined for cancer cells.

Other Treatments for Rhabdomyosarcoma

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, you may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent, and are designed to complement standard treatments, not take their place.

Integrative Oncology Services

At Penn, our integrative oncology services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative oncology services offer you ways to enhance the quality of your life, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Our cancer specialists are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. Our cancer team works with you and your family to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring your health and safety.

The Abramson Cancer Center's range of integrative supportive services is designed to help you cope with the cancer experience and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Services include:

Joan Karnell Supportive Services at Pennsylvania Hospital offers an extensive variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Oncology Clinic helps to manage cancer related symptoms. Integrative support programs include:

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients. Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies, or can be used when curative therapies are no longer an option to treat symptoms and improve quality of life.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end of life care. Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families.

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Medicine offers a full range of “at home” health care services, including specialized therapies and medications, for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.