Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS) is a syndrome of weakness and fatigue often associated with cancer, particularly lung cancer. LEMS is caused by antibodies in the body destroying nerve endings that help regulate the amount of a chemical messenger that communicates information throughout the body. When not enough of the chemical is released, muscles do not contract.
There may be symptoms of LEMS before cancer is diagnosed and once the diagnosis of LEMS has been made, the patient must be followed for the development of cancer. Symptoms of LEMS are related to weakness of the muscles, mostly in the arms, legs, thighs and hips, but also related to the neck, swallowing, breathing, speaking, etc. Early symptoms are problems going up stairs, getting up from the sitting position, and lifting arms over the head. It can also have an impact on involuntary body functions, causing dry mouth and impotence.
LEMS is not hereditary. The symptoms usually begin in young adults. It is not often seen in children. Approximately 40% of those with LEMS have cancer.
Currently no cure exists for LEMS. The most effective treatment if cancer is present is eradication of the cancer, though other medications have been used with some success. Treatment through medication is directed at relieving the symptoms. Drugs can be taken to release more of the chemicals the muscles aren’t getting enough of. Other drugs can be taken that slow down the production of the antibodies being produced.