Despite advances in therapy, nearly 30% of children with rhabdomyosarcoma experience progressive or relapsed disease, which is often fatal.

To facilitate the development of a retrieval therapy protocol, we studied potential risk factors that were predictive of survival after first relapse in 605 children who were enrolled onto three consecutive Intergroup Rhabdomyosarcoma Study Group protocols.

The median survival time from first recurrence was 0.8 years; the estimated percentage of patients who survived 5 years from first recurrence was 17% +/- 2% (mean +/- SD). Univariate analysis showed that tumor histology was an important predictor of 5-year survival (P < .001): the 5-year survival rate was 64% for patients with botryoid tumors (n = 19), 26% for patients with embryonal tumors (n = 313), and 5% for patients with alveolar or undifferentiated sarcoma (n = 273). Further analysis identified prognostic factors within histologic subtypes (P < .001). For patients with embryonal tumors, the estimated 5-year survival rate was 52% for patients who initially presented with stage 1 or group I disease, 20% for those with stage 2/3 or group II/III disease, and 12% for those with group IV disease. For patients with stage 1/group I disease, estimated 5-year survival rates were higher for patients with local (72%) or regional (50%) recurrence than for those with distant (30%) recurrence. Among patients with alveolar or undifferentiated sarcoma, only the disease group predicted outcome: the 5-year survival estimate was 40% for group I versus 3% for groups II through IV. We identified a "favorable risk" group (approximately 20% of patients) whose 5-year estimated survival rate was near 50%; for all other patients, the estimated survival was near 10%.

This analysis demonstrates that the probability of 5-year survival after relapse for rhabdomyosarcoma is dependent on several factors at the time of initial diagnosis, including histologic subtype, disease group, and stage. These findings will form the basis of a multi-institutional risk-adapted relapse protocol for childhood rhabdomyosarcoma.