Paraneoplastic syndromes are a group of rare disorders that develop in some people who have cancer. They are thought to occur when antibodies or white blood cells (also called T cells) in the immune system mistakenly attack normal cells in response to cancerous tumors (neoplasms).
Paraneoplastic syndromes can affect many parts of the body, including the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves), endocrine system, skin, blood, and joints. These disorders typically affect individuals with lung, breast, ovarian, or lymphatic cancer.
Paraneoplastic syndromes are sometimes related to myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). MPNs are blood cancers that result from the body’s bone marrow making too many platelets, white blood cells, or red blood cells. Some types of MPNs have been associated with paraneoplastic syndromes as well. In fact, inflammation associated with paraneoplastic syndromes has been shown to accelerate the transition of MPNs to acute myeloid leukemia. However, solid cancers, such as small cell lung cancers, can also cause paraneoplastic syndromes.
Paraneoplastic syndromes are a group of disorders that are caused by an abnormal immune system response to cancerous tumors. There are many types of paraneoplastic syndromes, but their causes are relatively similar. In general, paraneoplastic syndromes are caused by the body’s immune system attacking itself. They are the result of an autoimmune response to cancer.
Paraneoplastic syndromes are not thought to be caused by the treatment of MPNs or other cancers. They are caused by the cancer itself. When your body fights against MPNs or cancer, it creates antibodies to destroy the tumor, but these antibodies can turn against your own body.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, paraneoplastic syndromes develop in approximately 20 percent of people who have cancer. They occur most often in middle-aged people who have lung, ovarian, breast, or lymphatic cancer.
Unfortunately, due to the rarity of these conditions, there is little information about which MPNs are associated with a higher risk of paraneoplastic syndromes. The most common MPN associated with paraneoplastic syndromes may be chronic myeloid leukemia.
In general, the most common cancers associated with paraneoplastic syndromes include:
There are many symptoms associated with paraneoplastic syndromes. These symptoms can include fever, night sweats, weight loss, and loss of appetite. Less common symptoms include:
Paraneoplastic disorders of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) include:
Many other body systems can be affected. Paraneoplastic syndromes of the endocrine system include:
Joint or rheumatological paraneoplastic syndromes include hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy (clubbing of the fingers and painful, swollen joints) and inflammatory myopathies (chronic muscle inflammation and weakness).
Common skin (dermatological) symptoms of paraneoplastic syndrome include:
This list isn’t exhaustive. In fact, any symptom that occurs at sites far from a tumor or where it has spread that cannot be explained by the tumor itself can be considered a paraneoplastic syndrome.
Effective diagnosis and treatment of paraneoplastic syndromes is important because these syndromes can affect clinical outcomes. This is, in part, because people may notice the symptoms of a paraneoplastic syndrome before they notice any symptoms from the underlying cancer. Paraneoplastic syndromes can be a clue to physicians to check the bone marrow for signs of MPNs or to look for another cancer in the body.
If someone has paraneoplastic syndromes, the syndromes can be treated in many different ways. The first is to treat the underlying cancer itself. There are many types of paraneoplastic syndrome-associated symptoms. Therefore, the treatment of the symptoms will vary depending on the body system affected.
Because these syndromes are related to inflammation and the autoimmune system, treatment options can include:
Because paraneoplastic syndromes can vary from one individual to the next, the prognosis of these syndromes also varies. In some cases, symptoms can be easily managed. In other cases, they can be life-threatening. Ultimately, the presence of paraneoplastic syndromes can make the prognosis of the underlying cancer worse.
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