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NINDS Paraneoplastic Syndromes Information Page


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What are Paraneoplastic Syndromes?

Paraneoplastic syndromes are a group of rare disorders that are triggered by an abnormal immune system response to a cancerous tumor known as a "neoplasm." Paraneoplastic syndromes are thought to happen 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 people and are most common in individuals with lung, ovarian, lymphatic, or breast cancer. Neurologic symptoms generally develop over a period of days to weeks and usually occur prior to the tumor being discovered. These symptoms may include difficulty in walking 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 or dizziness. Paraneoplastic syndromes include Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, stiff-person syndrome, encephalomyelitis, myasthenia gravis, cerebellar degeneration, limbic or brainstem encephalitis, neuromyotonia, opsoclonus, and sensory neuropathy.

Is there any treatment?

When present, the tumor and cancer are treated first, followed by efforts to decrease the autoimmune response -- either through steroids such as cortisone or prednisone, high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin, or irradiation. Plasmapheresis, a process that cleanses antibodies from the blood, may ease symptoms in people with paraneoplastic disorders that affect the peripheral nervous system. Speech and physical therapy may help individuals regain some functions.

What is the prognosis?

There are no cures for paraneoplastic syndromes. There are no available treatments to stop progressive neurological damage. Generally, the stage of cancer at diagnosis determines the outcome.

What research is being done?

Research on paraneoplastic syndromes is aimed at enhancing scientific understanding and evaluating new therapeutic interventions. Researchers seek to learn what causes the autoimmune response in these disorders. Studies are directed at developing tests that detect the presence of antibodies. Scientists also hope to develop animal models for these diseases, which may be used to determine effective treatment strategies.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Paraneoplastic Syndromes Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association
22100 Gratiot Avenue
Eastpointe, MI   48021-2227
aarda@aarda.org
http://www.aarda.org
Tel: 586-776-3900 800-598-4668
Fax: 586-776-3903

National Cancer Institute (NCI)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6116 Executive Boulevard, Ste. 3036A, MSC 8322
Bethesda, MD   20892-8322
cancergovstaff@mail.nih.gov
http://cancer.gov
Tel: 800-4-CANCER (422-6237) 800-332-8615 (TTY)

American Cancer Society
National Home Office
250 Williams Street, NW
Atlanta, GA   30303-1002
http://www.cancer.org
Tel: 800-ACS-2345 (227-2345)

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291



Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated March 12, 2009