PURPOSE: Survival for pediatric rhabdomyosarcoma has improved with the use of multidrug chemotherapy and external beam radiotherapy. This study was performed to determine survival in a cohort of patients treated on one of three multidrug treatment protocols for head and neck rhabdomyosarcoma and to identify factors that place patients at risk for treatment failure. METHODS: Pertinent prognostic variables including age, sex, subsite of origin, resectability, and TNM stage were analyzed by the Kaplan-Meier methods with comparisons between variables performed using the Prentice-Wilcoxon test statistic. RESULTS: Overall 5-year survival was 74% (95% confidence interval 64% to 84%). Local failure accounted for the cause of death in 10 patients, and 8 died of disseminated disease. On univariate analysis, each variable contributing to the TNM staging system was significant in determining survival; invasiveness (P = 0.01), size (P = 0.02), nodal metastases (P <0.01), and distant disease (P <0.01). CONCLUSION: Survival has improved for head and neck rhabdomyosarcoma treated with multimodality therapy. Patients with advanced-stage disease are at greatest risk for treatment failure and require the most aggressive therapy.
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