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Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of sarcoma composed primarily of skeletal muscle cells.

Learn about the treatment options for Rhabdomyosarcoma at the UPMC Pituitary Center of Excellence.

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What is Rhabodmyosarcoma?

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a fast-growing cancerous tumor that is most commonly found in the head and neck, and particularly around the eyes.

This tumor comes about from a type of muscle cell called a rhabdomyoblast. These tumors are part of a larger group of tumors called soft tissue sarcomas.

Rhabdomyosarcomas cancers are most common in children.

Symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma may not always be apparent when the sarcoma is small, but can include neurological problems such as headaches.

At UPMC, the preferred surgical treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma in the skull base is the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA).This innovative, minimally invasive technique uses the nose and nasal cavities as natural corridors to access hard-to-reach or previously inoperable tumors. Benefits of EEA include:

  • No incisions to heal
  • No disfigurement
  • Faster recovery time

EEA has proven safe and effective in children. More than 100 children have been treated by UPMC skull base surgeons using EEA — more than at any other neurosurgery center in the world.

Diagnosing Rhabdomyosarcoma

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you about any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Rhabdomyosarcoma symptoms

In the early stages, a rhabdomyosarcoma cancers are small and do not produce symptoms. As the tumor grows, it may push aside normal head and neck structures, causing neurological symptoms.

The most common symptom of a rhabdomyosarcoma is a lump or swelling that may or may not be painful.

Tests for diagnosing rhabdomyosarcoma

Your doctor may order imaging tests if a rhabdomyosarcoma cancer is suspected. However, the only way to confirm the diagnosis is with a biopsy.

Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatments

UPMC's neurosurgical team may recommend a combination of surgical and non-surgical approaches to treat rhabdomyosarcoma.


Surgery is one of the most common methods for treating rhabdomyosarcoma. Surgery requires removal of the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue.

Rhabdomyosarcoma cancers of the skull base  may be approached directly using Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This state-of-the-art, minimally invasive approach allows surgeons to access the tumor through the natural corridor of the nose, without making an open incision. Surgeons then remove the tumor through the nose and nasal cavities.

EEA offers the benefits of no incisions to heal, no disfigurement, and a faster recovery time.

People who receive EEA surgery may be able to begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy soon after surgery.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Chemotherapy typically is used for rhabdomyosarcomas because it can help ensure that the tumor will not come back. Adding radiation will significantly reduce the chances of the cancer recurring.

In some cases, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be done prior to surgery.

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