Leiomyosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that affects smooth muscle tissue. These tumors are most common in the abdomen, but can occur anywhere in the body, including the uterus. Other common areas include blood vessels and skin. You can find more information below.
What is leiomyosarcoma?
Leiomyosarcoma is a rare cancer that begins in the smooth muscles responsible for organs such as the stomach, bladder, and intestines. These muscles are involuntary, you cannot control them. For example, they prepare your stomach to digest food and we cannot control them.
You have smooth muscles in your body, including:
- blood vessels
Leiomyosarcoma can develop in any of these organs. But the uterus, stomach, arms, legs, and small intestine are the most common places for this cancer to start.
On a small note, leiomyosarcoma is not the same as leiomyoma. Leiomyoma can also start in smooth muscle, but it is not malignant and does not metastasize (spread).
What causes leiomyosarcoma?
Doctors do not know what causes leiomyosarcoma. It may be due to gene changes that cause cells to grow out of control and form tumors. These changes can happen on their own, or you may have inherited the changed genes from one of your parents.
Most people who get this type of cancer are over the age of 50. Some people develop leiomyosarcoma after receiving radiation for a different type of cancer.
You may also be at risk if you have been exposed to certain chemicals, such as:
- dioxins produced when things like pesticides and paper are made
- vinyl chloride used to make plastic
What are the symptoms of leiomyosarcoma?
The symptoms of leiomyosarcoma depend on the size of the cancer and where it is. Some people have no symptoms.
This condition can cause the following cancer symptoms in general:
- bloating in your belly
- swelling under your skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- weight loss
Leiomyosarcoma in your stomach or intestines can cause:
- Stomach ache
- black stools
- vomiting blood
Leiomyosarcoma in your uterus can cause:
- Non-menstrual vaginal bleeding
- discharge from your vagina
- needing to urinate more often than usual
You should see your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.
How is leiomyosarcoma diagnosed?
Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms and medical history. It may be necessary to do a biopsy to see if you have leiomyosarcoma . For this, your doctor will take a tissue sample from the tumor with a needle or a small cut. This sample goes to a lab where it is tested for cancer.
You may also have one or more of the following tests to see exactly where the tumor is and how much it has grown:
- Computed tomography scan : Also known as a CT scan , in this test X-rays are used from different angles and combined to show more information.
- Magnetic resonance imaging : In magnetic resonance imaging, powerful magnets and radio waves are used to make detailed pictures of organs and other parts of your body.
- Ultrasound : Sound waves are used to create images of the inside of your body.
The results will also help your doctor plan your treatment.
Questions to ask your doctor
The diagnosis of leiomyosarcoma may bring many questions to mind. Make a list of everything you want to know and ask your doctor about them. When you see your doctor, you can take note of what he says and review them later.
You can ask your doctor the following questions, as well as other personal questions you may have:
- Has the cancer spread? If so, where?
- At what stage? What does it mean?
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the side effects of these treatments?
- Are there any other risks?
- What treatment would you recommend and why?
- Will I need to take medication? So which ones?
- Do the drugs have any side effects?
- What are the chances of leiomyosarcoma coming back after this treatment?
- How can I prepare for treatment?
- Can you tell me about your experience working with people with leiomyosarcoma?
- Should I get a second opinion?
- How will I be affected by this situation in the long term?
How is leiomyosarcoma treated?
Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on:
- where is the tumor
- whether it has spread
- how fast it spreads
- your age and health
The most common treatment for leiomyosarcoma is surgery. Your surgeon removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue.
Women with cancer in the uterus will need surgery to remove the organ. If the cancer has spread further, they may also remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Other treatments for leiomyosarcoma include:
- Radiation therapy: High-energy X-rays kill cancer cells or stop their growth. This is used to shrink the tumor before or after surgery.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment is used to kill cancer cells. If your cancer spreads or comes back after treatment, your doctor may give you chemotherapy medicine. You may also receive a combination of two or more chemotherapy drugs.
You should see your doctor for regular checkups after treatment. If your cancer comes back, you will be treated again with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Scientists are looking for new ways to treat this type of cancer. Clinical trials are testing new drugs to see if they’re safe and if they work. These trials are a way for people to try new drugs that are not publicly available. Your doctor can tell you if there is a clinical trial that might be suitable for you.
The importance of taking care of yourself
Once you’re diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, your days can fill up quickly with treatments, appointments, and the recovery process. This can also affect your feelings and thoughts.
You should take good care of yourself. Everyone’s version of self-care is different; but the basics include eating healthy, being physically active, getting enough sleep, connecting with people you like, and managing your stress. These are positive habits for everyone, and you need them more than ever when dealing with any cancer.
If your diagnosis starts to make you feel depressed or anxious, you may want to speak with a therapist who has experience working with people with cancer or other serious illnesses. A support group might also be a good idea.
Self-care is also about the things that bring you happiness. What made you feel best before your diagnosis? Ask yourself this and keep doing it, and try to be happy while you keep doing it.