Science Questions

Why don't people get muscle cancer?

Sun, 29th Jan 2012

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Patrick Couzens asked:

Whydon'tpeople get muscle cancer? It seems to be the only tissue that is immune.



Patrick W Couzens

Independence Missouri USA


Its not true.  There are some quite common myths about certain types of tissue in the body that don't get cancer.  People say, Oh, you don't get cancer of the heart.  You can, its just incredibly rare.  Any of the tissues of our body can pretty much become cancerous because that's just what happens when cells grow out of control. 

There are well-known cancers of the muscles.  There are benign muscle tumours of the smooth muscle.  That's the kind of stuff around our intestines and the female uterus.  They're called leiomyomas.  You also get benign tumours of skeletal muscle, those are rhabdomyomas and you can also get malignant aggressive muscle tumours.  So you get leiomyosarcomas and that's the smooth muscle cancers. And rhabdomyosarcomas which particularly affect children, and those are all cancers of the muscle. 

So although these are very rare, they still do happen.


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I dont know for sure that they don't generate tumors, but I don't think muscle cells divide and replace themselves like epithelial cells do, and when muscle cells are damaged, they are replaced by scar tissue. Muscle cells do get bigger, but its by increasing the number of actin and myosin filaments inside them. cheryl j, Wed, 23rd Nov 2011

People do develop muscle cancers; they're referred to as sarcomas. In the case of skeletal muscle they are known as rhabdomyosarcomas. They can also arise from cardiac muscle, producing an atrial myxoma, and smooth muscle, which gives rise to a leiomyosarcoma.

You are right to highlight their relative rarity - they account for only about 1% of all cancers - but they are relatively more common in men (for reasons unknown) and also constitute a higher proportion, at about 8%, of childhood cancers.

Anatomically they occur more frequently on the lower limbs than elsewhere, followed by upper limbs, torso and then head and neck in descending order of frequency.

chris, Wed, 23rd Nov 2011

There are muscle cancers.

The Uterus is essentially a muscle, and does occasionally get tumors and cancers. 

Skeletal muscle will also get cancers called rhabdomyosarcoma.  However, apparently rhabdomyosarcoma is more common in children than in adults.  

I think Cheryl is right that the reason that rhabdomyosarcoma occurs mainly in children is that is when the muscle cells are actively dividing.  As adults, they generally slow down or stop dividing.

Many cancers are in organs that are exposed to toxins such as the lungs & liver, as well as organs with rapidly dividing cells as in the skin and mucosa.  The skeletal muscles are somewhat isolated from these issues. CliffordK, Wed, 23rd Nov 2011

I wonder if a muscle training is able to decrease the possibility of a muscle cancer. Stephany, Sat, 26th Nov 2011

I doubt it, Stephany, in much the same way that lung training (known as breathing) actually increases the risk of lung cancer!

These cancers are triggered genetically.

chris chris, Sun, 27th Nov 2011

Just an extra:
Sarcomas are connective tissue cancer, ie bone cancer, muscle cancer, fat cell cancer...
Sarcomas are among the most difficult to treat with one of the highest mortality rates of all cancer types 5-years post diagnosis.

And I guess the reason why they're more frequent in men than women is because muscles are more frequent in men than women. More muscle cells, more chance one goes rampant and forms a neoplasm.

In humans, there is literally NO tissue immune for cancer. Nizzle, Tue, 29th Nov 2011

But muscle cells arent connective tissue, they are a separate tissue called muscle tissue. Muscles themselves have connective tissue sheaths and are connected to tendons and ligaments, which are also connective tissue. So are the sarcomas in the connective tissue around or near by muscle cells? cheryl j, Wed, 30th Nov 2011

I'm sorry about the confusion, with connective tissue, I actually mean all tissue types that are derived from the mesoderm germ cell layer..

It's a language thing see, I'm not a native English speaker :) Nizzle, Wed, 30th Nov 2011

I'm sceptical about this claim. It assumes that muscle bulk is proportional to cell count. Muscles hypertropy as well as potentially increase in cell number. I've not seen any evidence that men have more muscle cells than women. Do you have a reference for that?



P.S. You say that no tissue is cancer immune, but hair doesn't get cancer ;) chris, Wed, 30th Nov 2011

Hair technically isn't living tissue, so it would be difficult for it to have cancer.

However, hair follicles, the growth center of hair, is able to have cancer.

Hairy moles is also a risk factor for melanoma. CliffordK, Thu, 1st Dec 2011

Hmm, you're probably right about the nr. of muscle cells. Couldn't find a reference about gender differences in muscle hyperplasia to either confirm or refute.

And as Clifford already stated, you can get Follicular Melanoma which is hair cancer.. Nizzle, Thu, 1st Dec 2011

Despite the fact that the lens epithelium divides throughout life, there has never been a reported case of lens cancer. The reason remains a mystery and oddly receives almost no attention from the cancer research community. Look it up: you won't find much. The following reference is freely available: Indian J Ophthalmol. 2003 Dec;51(4):297-301 Rob, Tue, 16th Oct 2012

How does it happen though? thats what I'd like to know Just a random commenter, Mon, 19th Jan 2015

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