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 are most common in children. Symptoms may not always be apparent when the sarcoma is small, but can include neurological problems such as headaches.
The preferred surgical treatment at UPMC for rhabdomyosarcoma in the skull base is the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA) to remove the tumor. This innovative, minimally invasive technique uses the nose and nasal cavities as natural corridors to access hard-to-reach or previously inoperable tumors. EEA offers the benefits of no incisions to heal, no disfigurement to the patient, and a faster recovery time. If complementary therapies such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy are needed, they can be started almost immediately after surgery. In some cases, these treatments are given prior to surgery.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you about any symptoms you may be experiencing. In the early stages, a rhabdomyosarcoma is small and does 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 sarcoma is a lump or swelling that may or may not be painful.
Your doctor may order imaging tests if a tumor is suspected. However, the only way to confirm the diagnosis is with a biopsy.
Surgery is one of the most common methods for treating rhabdomyosarcoma. Surgery requires removal of the cancerous tumor and nearby tissue.
Rhabdomyosarcoma of the skull base may be approached directly by using the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This approach allows surgeons to see the tumor well without making incisions in the face or skull. The tumor is removed through the nose and nasal cavities, and recovery time is faster than with a traditional approach. Patients who receive surgery with the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach may be able to begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy soon after surgery.
At UPMC, we take a 360° Approach to treatment when evaluating each patient—looking at their conditions from every direction—to find the path that is least disruptive to the patient's brain, critical nerves, and ability to return to normal functioning. Our neurosurgical team may recommend a combination of surgical and non-surgical approaches to maximize the benefits of surgery while minimizing risks.
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 utilized prior to surgery.