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Diagn Pathol. 2017 Nov 2;12(1):77. doi: 10.1186/s13000-017-0667-7.

Complete mimicry: a case of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma masquerading as acute leukemia.

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Division of Hematology, Faculty of Medicine, Kagawa University, Kagawa, Japan.
Division of Hematology, Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Kagawa University, 1750-1 Ikenobe, Miki-cho, Kita-gun, Kagawa, 761-0793, Japan.
Division of Hematology, Faculty of Medicine, Kagawa University, Kagawa, Japan.
Division of Laboratory Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Kagawa University, Kagawa, Japan.
Department of diagnostic pathology, Kagawa University, Kagawa, Japan.



A small number of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) cases involve the bone marrow. A leukemic presentation of RMS has been reported in a few case series, although almost all cases of leukemic RMS are not completely mimicking leukemia. We encountered a case with RMS cell infiltration of the bone marrow that resembled floating hematological cells.


We encountered a rare case of a 15-year-old boy with a 2-week history of left femoral pain. Upon admission, he was afebrile with no other symptoms. No apparent cause of femoral pain was detected on an initial examination. Laboratory findings revealed normal white blood cell (WBC) count and hemoglobin concentration, with a platelet count of 10.3 × 104/μL. WBCs included 2.0% metamyelocytes, 4.5% myelocytes, and 0.5% blasts. Lactate dehydrogenase concentration was 1299 U/L, creatine kinase was 437 U/L, and C-reactive protein was 1.25 mg/dL. Bone marrow aspiration demonstrated hypercellular marrow (nucleated cell count 1.84 × 104/μL) and 89.0% of blast-like cells of all nucleated cells. The proliferating cells were negative for myeloperoxidase and esterase, and strongly positive for CD56. Positron emission tomography exhibited extensive accumulation of 18F-fludeoxyglucose with a SUVmax of 7.09. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed T1-low intensity, gadolinium-enhanced, diffuse, and irregular lesions on his pelvis and bilateral femurs. These laboratory and imaging findings suggested hematological malignancy with diffuse bone involvement, suggestive of acute leukemia. However, the pathological diagnosis of bone marrow and basal penile muscle biopsy was alveolar RMS. Karyotype analysis of bone marrow cells revealed the characteristic translocation of t(2;13)(q35;q14). The final diagnosis was alveolar RMS with massive involvement of the bone marrow and the primary site in the perineal muscles. The tumor cells both of the primary site and bone marrow were positive for myogenin.


A literature review found a misdiagnosed case of completely mimicking leukemic RMS as natural-killer (NK)-cell leukemia. Such a misdiagnosis can have critical consequences. We experienced a rare case of alveolar RMS with symmetrical diffuse bone marrow involvement completely masquerading as acute leukemia. The results of a surface marker study showing that the tumor cells had a near NK-cell phenotype were misleading.


Acute leukemia; Flow cytometry; Mimicking; Rhabdomyosarcoma

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