LEMS and Cancer

LEMS and Cancer

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Graphic illustrating percentage of patients with a co-occurring cancer

About 50%-60% of patients with LEMS have a co-occurring cancer

  • LEMS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a part of the nervous system called the neuromuscular junction. This is a part of the body where nerves communicate with muscles to control their movement.
  • In LEMS patients where there’s a co-occurrence of cancer, the body produces antibodiesa type of protein produced by the immune system to fight infections that attack not only the tumor, but also the neuromuscular junction.


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LEMS expert Dr. Amit Sachdev explains how disruptions in the immune system, known as autoimmune disorders, lead to neuromuscular disorders.

Screening for cancer

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Once a diagnosis of LEMS is confirmed, your doctor may decide to run more tests. If your symptoms have progressed very quickly, it could be a sign that your LEMS is related to cancer.

Lung icon

Although LEMS also occurs with a variety of other cancers, it is most often associated with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) an aggressive, fast-growing cancer of the lungs

Cigarette smoking icon

The majority of SCLC cases occur in people with a history of smoking



If your doctor suspects SCLC, he or she may order a CT (computed tomography) scan or a PET (positron emission tomography) scan of your chest to see if a tumor is present. Once all the results are in, your doctor will discuss the best treatment plan for you.

Signs and Symptoms of Underlying Cancer

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Specialists use a scoring system called DELTA-P to predict the likelihood that a patient’s LEMS symptoms are accompanied by underlying tumor. The name is an acronym drawn from each of the signs or risk factors associated with this type of LEMS.

D = Difficulty swallowing/neck weakness
E = Erectile dysfunction
L = Loss of weight
T = Tobacco use

If any of these DELTA-P signs is relevant to you, reach out to your doctor to discuss.

Patients with cancer-related LEMS may face numerous daily challenges

Members of a panel of patients with cancer-related LEMS described their experiences and the effects on their lives and those around them.

  • Muscle pain
  • Extreme fatigue, which makes it difficult to do day-to-day tasks and climb stairs
  • Trouble chewing due to jaw fatigue, which also causes slurred speech and dryness
  • Vision trouble
  • Inability to sleep, which also disrupts their family members’ sleep
  • Difficulty with self-care and heavy reliance on caregiver support
  • Patients reported feelings of depression

Treating LEMS Related to Cancer

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In cancer-related LEMS, the treatment team usually includes oncologists and neurologists who may use a coordinated effort to determine the appropriate treatment for you.

  • The oncologists will treat the underlying cancer using chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • The neurologists will typically manage the symptoms of LEMS

Stay informed

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