Context: Rhabdomyosarcomas comprise a relatively common diagnostic entity among childhood cancers and a relatively rare one among adult tumors. They may possess a variety of histologies that generally differ among age groups. These lesions appear to be separate biologic entities as well as morphologic categories, with embryonal tumors having genetic lesions related to loss of heterozygosity and aberrant parental imprinting, alveolar tumors containing genetic fusions between PAX and forkhead genes, and pleomorphic tumors showing an accumulation of genetic lesions similar to other adult high-grade sarcomas.
Objective: To present guidelines for diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma and recent finding concerning the biology and classification of these lesions.
Data sources: Review of recent and older published literature and distillation of the authors' experience.
Conclusions: Infants and young children tend to have embryonal rhabdomyosarcomas, adolescents and young adults tend to have alveolar rhabdomyosarcomas, and older adults tend to have pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas, although there is some overlap. Newer rare entities, including spindle cell rhabdomyosarcoma and sclerosing rhabdomyosarcoma, have been described in children and adults. Fusion-positive tumors have a distinct molecular signature with downstream activation of a number of myogenic and tumorigenic factors. Genetic testing may be successfully used for diagnosis and may guide therapy in future clinical trials. Differential diagnosis has become simpler than in previous years, because of use of myogenic factors in immunohistochemistry, but classification based solely on histologic features remains challenging.