Cancer can occur anywhere in the body so long as cells acquire the ability to proliferate. This can happen in both organ tissue or cells, and symptoms will usually hold clues as to which is affected. If a tumour is growing inside a muscle, or presses against it, it could cause cramping in several body parts. Four areas, however, are more prone to cramps.
According to the Cancer Centre: “Persistent cramping of the leg and other muscles is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, especially at night, which may affect sleep.”
When a cramp occurs it is generally because a muscle is tightening suddenly, causing a sensation of tightness, or stiffness.
“It may make it hard to move the muscle, but it usually lasts only a few minutes,” notes the Cancer Centre.
“It’s most common in the leg – thigh, calf, ankle or foot – but may happen in any muscle including in the hands, arms, abdomen and along the rib cage.”
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Myalgia, which refers to the aching of the muscles, usually accompanies cramping.
Although the symptoms can occur independently, it is not uncommon for aching to follow contractions of the muscle.
The intensity of this range widely, from mild to severe, or somewhere in between.
When a cramp is caused by cancer itself, it often signals that a tumour has been growing in the muscle.
These types of cancers are referred to as soft-tissue sarcoma, which is relatively rare.
Alternatively, a tumour that may grow inside the tissue of an organ and press against a muscle, causing cramps.
The third type of cancer known to cause myalgia affects blood cells.
“Cancers that cause the body to make too many white blood cells, such as certain types of leukaemia” can cause muscle aches, explains cancer.net.
The American Society recommends staying alert to sudden pain or discomfort in the leg and foot.
Alternatively, the body says you may notice you are having trouble moving your foot, due to pain when moving it.
“Changes in your quality of sleep” may also become a problem if the leg cramps strike during the night, notes the American Society.
Because cramp is an involuntary forceful muscle contraction, it can be hard to predict when it will subside.
The “intense gripping” sensations that characterise cramps should subside, once the contraction eases, but sometimes a dull ache will linger.
It is worth noting that the majority of patients who present with cramps find their symptoms aren’t related to cancer.
Other common causes can include prolonged periods of inactivity, dehydration, changes in surrounding temperature, or overuse of muscles, to name a few.
Any persistent bodily changes that arouse suspicion, however, should be checked by a GP.