What are Paraneoplastic Syndromes?
Paraneoplastic syndromes are a group of rare degenerative disorders that are triggered by a person's immune system response to a neoplasm, or cancerous tumour. Neurologic paraneoplastic syndromes are believed to occur when cancer-fighting antibodies or white blood cells known as T cells mistakenly attack normal cells in the nervous system. These disorders typically affect middle-aged to older persons and are most common in persons with lung, ovarian, lymphatic, or breast cancer. Neurologic symptoms generally develop over a period of days to weeks and usually occur prior to tumour detection, which can complicate diagnosis. These symptoms may include difficulty in walking and/or swallowing, loss of muscle tone, loss of fine motor coordination, slurred speech, memory loss, vision problems, sleep disturbances, dementia, seizures, sensory loss in the limbs, and vertigo. Neurologic paraneoplastic syndromes include Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, stiff-person syndrome, encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord), myasthenia gravis, cerebellar degeneration, limbic and/or brainstem encephalitis, neuromyotonia, and opsoclonus (involving eye movement) and sensory neuropathy.