Rhabdomyosarcoma of the extremities and trunk: Analysis of 150 patients treated by surgical resection



This report details the clinical experience of 150 patients with rhabdomyosarcomas treated by one group of surgeons. Of the 150 patients, 103 suffered from pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas, 40 patients had embryonal rhabdomyosarcomas, and 7 had alveolar cell type of rhabdomyosarcoma. The males suffered almost twice as much as the females from this form of cancer (96 males to 54 females).

The fifth decade had the highest incidence of all rhabdomyosarcomas. The younger patients generally suffered from embryonal rhabdomyosarcomas and the older ones from pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas, although age was no barrier to the occurrence of embryonal rhabdomyosarcomas in some of the older patients and pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas in some of the younger patients. Caucasians were almost exclusively afflicted by this form of cancer (93% of this series).

The lower extremity was the most frequent site of the lesion, occurring in 50.7% of the 150 cases. The upper extremity was the second most frequently involved site (28%), and the trunk was the least involved site (21.3%).

Of the 150 patients studied, 40 were considered indeterminate. Thirteen patients are alive and free of cancer, but were treated less than 5 years ago; 12 patients reported for consultation only. There were 13 who were free of sarcomas at periods in excess of 2 years but were lost to follow-up. Two patients in this series died before the 5-year period, and autopsy revealed the death to be due to causes other than the rhabdomyosarcoma. Of the 110 determinate patients, 75 (68%) died as a result of the cancer. The 5-year survival rate equals 32%. The fact of the 30% 5-year survival after treatment for recurrences should help dismiss the pessimism which prevails once a recurrence is noted subsequent to major therapy.

Age per se had no great effect on prognosis. The poorest results occurred in the 11–20 age range, with a 5-year survival of 15%. This value reflects on increased incidence of embryonal rhabdomyosarcomas which tend to be more malignant and metastasize earlier than do the pleomorphic type.

The effect of location upon survival revealed that of 76 patients with involvement of the lower extremity, 34% survived 5 years or longer, and those with sarcomas of the trunk had the poorest survival (26%). The fact that the trunk, by virtue of its anatomy, limits the degree of surgery that can be performed, probably helps to explain this difference.

The role of radiation therapy and chemotherapy awaits elucidation. Reports of combined surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are encouraging.