Rhabdomyosarcoma of the urinary bladder in adults: predilection for alveolar morphology with anaplasia and significant morphologic overlap with small cell carcinoma

Am J Surg Pathol. 2008 Jul;32(7):1022-8. doi: 10.1097/PAS.0b013e3181650e4a.


Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) represents the most common malignant soft tissue tumor in children and adolescents with the urinary bladder representing a frequent site. Most of these urinary bladder tumors are embryonal RMS, predominantly the botryoid subtype. RMSs of the urinary bladder in adults are distinctively rare and the subject of only case reports. We report the clinicopathologic features of 5 bladder neoplasms with rhabdomyosarcomatous differentiation in adults and emphasize the differential diagnosis in the adult setting. The patients, 4 men and 1 woman, ranged in age from 23 to 85 years (mean 65.4 y). Gross hematuria was the most common initial symptom, although 2 patients had metastatic disease at presentation. Four cases were pure primary RMSs of the bladder and 1 case was a sarcomatoid urothelial carcinoma with RMS representing the extensive heterologous component. All 5 cases demonstrated a diffuse growth pattern (ie, non-nested), of which 4 cases had nuclear anaplasia (Wilms criteria without the atypical mitotic figure requirement); only 1 case (the sarcomatoid carcinoma) showed obvious rhabdomyoblastic differentiation (ie, strap cells). Three cases were of the alveolar subtype (1 admixed with embryonal histology) and 2 were RMS, not further classified. Microscopically, all tumors had a primitive undifferentiated morphology with cells containing scant cytoplasm, varying round to fusiform nuclei with even chromatin distribution, and frequent mitoses. The degree of morphologic overlap with small cell carcinoma of the bladder, a relatively more common round cell tumor in adults, was striking. The epithelial component of the sarcomatoid carcinoma was high-grade invasive urothelial carcinoma with glandular differentiation. No other case had previous history of bladder cancer or concurrent carcinoma in situ or invasive urothelial carcinoma. All tumors showed immunohistochemical expression for desmin, myogenin, and/or MyoD1. Synaptophysin was performed in 4 cases, and 3 showed weak cytoplasmic immunoreactivity. Two patients received chemotherapy, 2 underwent cystectomy, and 1 had transurethral resection alone. Outcome data were available in 4 cases, and all 4 died of disease (1, 4, 8, and 8 mo). In conclusion, (1) RMS of the urinary bladder in adults more commonly presents as a primitive round blue cell neoplasm that has significant morphologic and immunohistochemical overlap with small cell carcinoma of the bladder. (2) Although RMS in children generally have a botryoid embryonal histology with favorable outcome, bladder RMS in adults frequently demonstrates alveolar or unclassified histology, commonly with anaplasia, and have a uniformly aggressive clinical course.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anaplasia
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Nucleus / pathology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Desmin / analysis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • MyoD Protein / analysis
  • Myogenin / analysis
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma, Alveolar / chemistry
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma, Alveolar / pathology*
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma, Alveolar / therapy
  • Synaptophysin / analysis
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / therapy


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Desmin
  • MyoD Protein
  • MyoD1 myogenic differentiation protein
  • Myogenin
  • Synaptophysin