Twitter Facebook Google Plus YouTube LinkedIn Instagram
Enquiry form
Enquiries
General enquiries:
+44 (0)207 935 4444
Book an appointment:
+44 (0)207 616 7693
Self-pay enquiry:
+44 (0)203 219 3315

Paraneoplastic syndrome is a term used to describe conditions caused by cancerous tumours that cause symptoms in tissues or organs nowhere near the tumour site.

What causes paraneoplastic syndrome?

Paraneoplastic syndromes are diverse and their biology is not fully understood. Paraneoplastic neurological syndrome seems to occur when proteins on the surface of cancer cells are also present on normal brain and nerve cells.

When the body mounts an immune response to the tumour cells, the antibodies and immune cells produced then also attack the nervous system, causing progressive nerve damage. Autoimmune paraneoplastic syndromes are most common in people with lung, breast, ovarian or lymphatic cancers and can sometimes be diagnosed by identifying antibodies in their serum that are active against nerve tissue.

Other paraneoplastic syndromes arise when a tumour secretes hormones, enzymes or other physiologically active substances, or when other substances produced by the tumour interfere with metabolic functions. Some small cell lung cancers, for example, produce a hormone that causes the kidneys to retain water. The paraneoplastic syndrome that develops causes immediate and serious symptoms.

Neurological symptoms of paraneoplastic syndrome

Neurological symptoms of paraneoplastic syndrome can develop over days or weeks and can include:

  • Walking, balance or speech difficulties.
  • Slurring words and mispronouncing words.
  • Finding it hard to swallow properly.
  • Not being able to coordinate movement and having muscle weakness.
  • Feeling dizzy or experiencing vertigo when standing.
  • Losing sensation in the skin of the arms and legs.
  • Finding it difficult to remember things.
  • Trouble getting to sleep and waking often.
  • Seizures or convulsions.
  • Confusion and dementia.
  • Poor eyesight that gets worse.

These neurological problems often appear before the cancer is detected: in some cases of paraneoplastic syndrome a tumour is never found, perhaps because the antibodies that develop against nerve tissue prevent its growth.

Types of paraneoplastic neurological syndrome

There are many types of paraneoplastic neurological syndrome and examples include:

  • Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome in which muscles around the hip and shoulder become weak. Swallowing and vision may also be affected. This form of paraneoplastic syndrome is often associated with lung cancer.
  • Myasthenia gravis produces severe muscle weakness, sometimes causing breathing difficulties.
  • Cerebellar degeneration causes loss of balance, unsteady limb movements and problems with speech and swallowing.
  • Limbic encephalitis is a paraneoplastic syndrome that involves swelling of the brain, often causing depression, seizures and irritability.
  • Sensory neuropathy involves progressive loss of skin sensation in the limbs.
  • Stiff person syndrome in which muscles, particularly in the legs and spine, become stiff or rigid.
  • Opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome is a type of paraneoplastic syndrome that is sometimes associated with neuroblastoma in children. It involves rapid irregular eye movements with muscle jerks and poor coordination.

These conditions are extremely rare: together they affect less than 1% of cancer patients. Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome may develop in about 1% of people with small cell lung cancer.

Make a Self-Pay enquiry

The London Clinic is fully committed to compliance with Data Protection and Department of Health medical confidentiality guidelines. The personal information that you submit using this form will be held securely by us and your personal information will not be shared with anyone outside of the London Clinic or used for any other purpose than to respond to your enquiry and / or request. Please confirm how you would like us to contact you:

Protecting your information

The London Clinic is fully committed to compliance with Data Protection and medical confidentiality guidelines. The personal information that you submit using this form will be held securely by us and will only be used to respond to your enquiry and/or request. Please see our Privacy Notice for further details on how we use your personal data

Main numbers

General enquiries: 020 7935 4444 Appointments: 020 7616 7693 Self-Pay: 020 3219 3315

Contact numbers for service departments

Other numbers

Concierge service: 020 3219 3323International office: 020 3219 3266Invoice and payment enquiries: 020 7616 7708Press office: 020 7616 7676

Your call may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.

Close menu