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Radiation Therapy Is Beneficial after Surgery and Chemotherapy in Children with Rhabdomyosarcoma, Types Alveolar and Undifferentiated

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a childhood disease characterized by the growth of cancer cells in the muscle tissue somewhere in the body. Treatment of RMS usually involves surgery to remove the cancer, followed by chemotherapy. It has not been proven whether the additional use of radiation therapy might also be beneficial. Now, researchers in the Intergroup Rhabdomyosarcoma Study Group say that radiation therapy, following surgery and chemotherapy, appears to be effective in children with specific types of RMS.

Four hundred thirty-nine children with RMS underwent surgery during which the cancer was completely removed. To prevent a recurrence (return) of the cancer, these children then underwent chemotherapy. Eight-three of the 439 children also received radiation therapy. An evaluation of the treatment outcomes for these patients revealed that the benefit of radiation therapy depended on which type of RMS a child had. For those with a type of disease called embryonal RMS, the outcomes were excellent but radiation therapy offered no additional benefit. For children with alveolar or undifferentiated sarcoma, an improved outcome was observed in those who had radiation therapy in addition to surgery and chemotherapy. The average survival-without-relapse rate for these children was 73% in the radiation therapy group, compared with 43% in the non-radiation therapy group.

These researchers concluded that children with RMS of the alveolar or undifferentiated sarcoma types should receive radiation therapy, following surgery and chemotherapy. Parents of children with RMS may wish to talk with their child’s doctor about the risks and benefits of adding radiation therapy to the treatment regimen, or of participating in a clinical trial in which other new treatments are being studied. (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 17, No 11, pp 3468-3475, 1999).

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