Survival of children and young people with rhabdomyosarcoma has improved substantially during the past 30 years. The improvement can be attributed to the introduction of coordinated multimodality therapy through the efforts of collaborative clinical-trial groups in the USA and Europe. As survival has improved, important late sequelae of treatment have been characterised, and many relate to the local therapy used. Efforts have since been made by some groups to explore ways in which local treatment, particularly radiotherapy, can be omitted for some patients in an attempt to reduce the risk of late sequelae without compromising prospects for cure. An important issue is the overall cost of cure in relation to the treatment received and the need for better selection of patients most likely to benefit from this approach to therapy.