A paraneoplastic syndrome is a group of rare disorders that are seen to be occurring in some people who suffer from cancer. The paraneoplastic syndrome can affect the nervous system as well as other organs and systems like the endocrine system, skin, blood, and joints.(2)
What Leads To Paraneoplastic Syndrome?
The paraneoplastic syndrome occurs side by side with cancer as your immune system gets activated and attacks parts of the brain along with cancer cells. Paraneoplastic syndromes do not occur as a result of cancer cells straight affecting nerve function, or metastasis that is spread of cancer or complications of cancer or side effects of medicines.
Many studies believe that the immunity system has the ability to fight cancer cells, but instead of just attacking the cancer cells, the immune system starts attacking the normal cells of the nervous system and thus give rise to neurological disorders.(2)
The paraneoplastic syndrome occurs when the agents of the immune system that are responsible for fighting cancer, also start to attack parts or areas of the brain, spinal cord, nerves or muscles.
The problems arising due to this depend upon where the nervous system has been affected. The problems may involve muscle movements or muscle coordination, memory skills or thinking skills, sensory awareness, sleep, etc.
The problems with the nervous system may sometimes be reversed. However, many times, the nervous system gets affected and damaged very rapidly and the damage can become permanent and irreversible
That said, treatment targeted at underlying cancer and also the immune system can cause a reduction in further damage to the immune system. The treatment may also help in reducing the symptoms and improving the quality of life.(2)
Can Paraneoplastic Syndrome Be Cured?
Currently, there is no cure for paraneoplastic syndromes. The available treatment methods and medicines cannot stop or arrest the progressive neurological damage. The treatment and medicines can only help in reducing the symptoms of the condition and improve the quality of life a bit. Usually, the stage of underlying cancer will decide the outcome or prognosis of these syndromes.(1)
The underlying tumors and cancers are treated first:
- Doctors also try to reduce the autoimmune response. They do this by giving various drugs that act on the immune system, like corticosteroids- cortisone or prednisone, intravenous immunoglobulin, radiation, etc.
- Plasmapheresis is another procedure which may help in relieving the symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes. In this method, the blood is cleansed of antibodies.
- Occupational therapy like speech therapy and physical therapy may be helpful in restoring some functions in a few individuals(1)
In a Paraneoplastic syndrome, the signs and symptoms can develop very rapidly, almost over a matter of a few weeks or even days. Also, the signs and symptoms of these conditions start well before cancer is actually diagnosed. The signs and symptoms vary greatly depending upon which part of the body has been affected. These may involve-
- Limb difficulties- like walking
- Problems in maintaining coordination and balance
- Difficulties in muscle coordination
- Weakened muscles
- Loss of muscle tone
- Difficulties in fine motor skills, even as simple as picking up an object
- Difficulty in speaking or swallowing
- Loss of memory and difficulties in cognitive abilities
- Eye or vision difficulties
- Sleep problems
- Seizures or convulsions
- Uncontrolled voluntary or abnormal involuntary movements
Types Of Paraneoplastic Syndrome
There are different types of paraneoplastic syndrome. Some of the examples of this condition include-
- Cerebellar degeneration
- Stiff person syndrome
- Myasthenia gravis
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Limbic encephalitis
- Lambert Eaton myasthenic syndrome
Paraneoplastic syndrome is a cluster of very rare diseases or conditions. It develops in some of the people who have cancer. Paraneoplastic affect various systems including nervous and hormonal systems, skin, joints, blood, etc. Paraneoplastic syndromes do not have any cure currently.