Sarcomas are rare types of cancer which develop in the connectives tissues of the body and either form in soft tissue; such as muscle or blood vessels, or in bone or its surrounding tissue.
Leiomyosarcomas are one of the more common types of sarcoma and develop in smooth muscle tissues, which are involuntary muscles that we have no control over. These are found in the walls of muscular organs like the heart and stomach, as well as in the walls of blood vessels throughout the body. This means that leiomyosarcomas can start anywhere in the body and common places are the walls of the womb (uterus), the trunk of the body, and the arms and legs.
The exact causes of leiomyosarcomas are unknown but most people with leiomyosarcoma are over the age of 50.
It is thought that exposure to some chemicals like vinyl chloride, which is used in making plastics or herbicides can increase the risk of developing soft tissue sarcomas. It also seems to develop in areas that have previously been treated by radiotherapy, however usually a decade after exposure.
Symptoms may include:
- a lump or swelling
- abdominal discomfort or bloating
- swelling or pain in any area of the body
- vaginal bleeding or abnormalities in periods.
These symptoms are very vague and therefore sarcomas can be difficult to diagnose until scans are performed.
As sarcomas are rare, they are usually treated at a specialist hospital. This means that you may have to travel some distance to have your treatment.
The treatment for leiomyosarcoma| depends on a number of things, including your general health and the size and position of the tumour in the body. The results of your tests will help your doctor plan the best type of treatment for you. They will then discuss this with you.
The usual treatment is surgery to remove the tumour which is then followed by radiotherapy to reduce the chance of it coming back. Chemotherapy is also used but mainly for recurrence or if the tumour has spread.
Unfortunately about 50% of sarcoma patients will have a recurrence. Some of these will be localized and reoccur in the same site as previously found but many will involve metastasis where secondary tumours will develop in sites quite far away from the original site. The most usual site for metastasis is the lungs although the liver and, more rarely, bones or the lymph system, can be affected.
With single or multiple tumours growing in the lungs it can make breathing difficult and sometimes painful and if surgery is not an option to alleviate this then many patients will need supplemental oxygen to aid with breathing. In many cases chemotherapy can reduce or treat these recurrences but in some the tumours are not responsive or are growing too fast and supplemental oxygen will help improve quality of life for the patient.
As these types of cancer are rarer and still unknown there needs to be more awareness and fund-raising for research into why they occur and how to treat them.