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What Is Paraneoplastic Syndrome & Can Benign Tumors Cause It?

What Is Paraneoplastic Syndrome?

Paraneoplastic neurologic syndromes (PNS) are a group of conditions that affect the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, nerves and/or muscles) and usually occur in individuals who already have cancer. They develop at sites distant from a tumor or its metastasis.

In a nutshell, it is a clinical syndrome that involves non-metastatic systemic effects usually accompanied by malignant diseases. The common symptoms may be endocrine, neuromuscular or musculoskeletal. Lung carcinoma is the most common type of cancer that often leads to paraneoplastic syndrome. It can occur in around 10 percent of people with this type of cancer.1

Causes And symptoms Of Paraneoplastic Syndrome

This condition generally shows symptoms fairly quickly when compared to other types of diseases. Some symptoms are even noticed even before cancer is diagnosed. The symptoms differ broadly pertaining to the particular condition associated and may involve signs of increased levels of calcium, signs of reduced levels of sodium level in the blood, signs associated with high cortisol level, and other symptoms. Let us see some of the typical symptoms of paraneoplastic syndrome

Types Of Paraneoplastic Syndrome

Some of the most common types of paraneoplastic syndrome include

  • Endocrine
  • Neurological
  • Mucocutaneous

Endocrine class is further classified into

  • Cushing Syndrome– A noncancerous benign tumor of the pituitary gland occurs due to abnormally high levels of cortisol.
  • Hypercalcemia– A typical condition where you have higher levels of calcium in your blood.
  • Hypoglycemia – This is often caused when you have a low level of blood sugar. This is generally associated with the treatment of diabetes.

Neurological class is subdivided into:

  • Cerebellar Degeneration – It is the worsening of neurons of the nerve cells in the cerebellum (the area of the brain that controls muscle coordination and balance). In other words, the damaging and weakening of neurons in the cerebellum
  • Limbic Encephalitis– A sore condition of the brain, triggered by autoimmunity: an unusual condition where the body produces antibodies against itself. It is characterized by rapidly progressive short-term memory loss, psychiatric symptoms, and seizures.
  • Encephalomyelitis– An inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that can happen to anyone, but affects children more often than adults. This typical demyelinating syndrome occurs rapidly and gets worse fast.
  • Opsoclonus-Myoclonus- A rare neuroinflammatory disorder of paraneoplastic, parainfectious or idiopathic origin that affects the nervous system. Patients suffering from this condition have troubles in eye movements, irritability and sleep disturbance.

Mucocutaneous are categorized into

  • Acanthosis Nigricans– Typically a skin disease often characterized by areas of dark, velvety discoloration in body folds and creases.
  • Dermatomyositis– A muscle disease characterized by chronic muscle inflammation accompanied by muscle weakness.
  • Sweet’s Syndrome– A rare skin condition characterized by fever and the sudden onset of a rash, fever and elevated blood cell count.2, 3

Can Benign Tumors Cause It?

Paraneoplastic syndromes are rare conditions typically occurs by matter that is produced by a benign tumor, which is usually a malignant tumor, or a cancerous tumor’s metastases. It happens when the T cells also referred to as antibodies erroneously attack the normal cells in the nervous system. They are much noticed in patients who have a history of lung, ovary or breast cancer. There are cases in which patients despite having positive antibodies still succumbed and not responded to treatment.4


Paraneoplastic syndromes occur with many forms of malignancy. Although it is a very rare condition, still many cases are often associated with cases of lymphoma, lung carcinoma, and Hodgkin’s disease. Therefore, patients with a suspected paraneoplastic syndrome should undergo complete clinical tests and seek immediate doctor’s attention.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 6, 2021

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