Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes

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Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes (PNS) are a group of rare disorders that occur as a result of an immune response to an underlying cancer. These syndromes can affect various parts of the nervous system, leading to a wide range of symptoms. Some of the common symptoms associated with Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes include cognitive dysfunction, ataxia, sensory neuropathy, myelopathy, motor neuron disease, and opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome. Understanding the symptoms and seeking early diagnosis is crucial for managing these syndromes effectively.

Symptoms of Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes

Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes can manifest in different ways depending on the specific syndrome and the part of the nervous system affected. Here are some of the key symptoms associated with these syndromes:

Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction refers to a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. Patients with Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes may experience difficulties in thinking, reasoning, and remembering information.


Ataxia is a condition characterized by a lack of coordination and unsteady movements. It can affect both the limbs and the trunk, making it challenging for individuals to maintain balance and perform precise movements.

Sensory Neuropathy

Sensory neuropathy involves damage to the peripheral nerves responsible for transmitting sensory information. This can result in abnormal sensations such as numbness, tingling, or pain in the affected areas.


Myelopathy refers to the dysfunction of the spinal cord, leading to various neurological symptoms. Patients may experience weakness, loss of sensation, and difficulty with coordination and balance.

Motor Neuron Disease

Motor neuron disease affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movements. It can lead to muscle weakness, muscle wasting, and difficulties with speech, swallowing, and breathing.

Opsoclonus-Myoclonus Syndrome

Opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome is characterized by rapid, involuntary eye movements (opsoclonus) and sudden, brief muscle contractions (myoclonus). It can cause uncontrolled jerking movements and difficulty with coordination.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes can be challenging due to their rarity and the wide range of symptoms they present. However, early diagnosis is crucial for effective management. Here are some diagnostic methods and treatment options:

Diagnostic Methods

  • Physical examination and medical history review
  • Neurological examination to assess reflexes, coordination, and muscle strength
  • Blood tests to detect specific antibodies associated with Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes
  • Imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans to identify any abnormalities in the nervous system
  • Electromyography (EMG) to evaluate nerve and muscle function

Treatment Options

There is no specific cure for Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes. The primary goal of treatment is to manage symptoms, control the underlying cancer, and prevent further neurological damage. Here are some treatment options:

  • Immunotherapy: This involves the use of medications to suppress the immune response and reduce inflammation in the nervous system.
  • Chemotherapy: If the Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndrome is associated with an underlying cancer, chemotherapy may be necessary to target and eliminate cancer cells.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength, coordination, and balance in individuals with Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes.
  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy focuses on improving daily living skills and enhancing independence in patients.
  • Speech therapy: Speech therapy may be beneficial for individuals experiencing difficulties with speech and swallowing.


Paraneoplastic Neurologic Syndromes are rare disorders that can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking early medical attention is crucial for effective management. While there is no cure for these syndromes, various treatment options can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall functioning. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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