Paraneoplastic syndromes occur among a small percentage of people who have cancer, but these syndromes aren't caused by cancer cells directly disrupting nerve function.

Instead, they're believed to be caused by cancer-fighting antibodies or certain white blood cells, known as T cells, that the body activates to combat the cancer. Instead of attacking only the cancer cells, these immune system agents also attack normal cells of the nervous system.

Other cancer-related neurological problems

Other neurological problems may be related to cancers. For example, cancerous (malignant) tumors may develop in the brain or spinal cord, or tumors in other tissues may disrupt local nerve function. Cancers elsewhere in the body may migrate (metastasize). Malignant cells from the lungs, for example, may metastasize to the brain. Also, treatments for cancer can affect neurological function. These complications of cancer aren't considered paraneoplastic syndromes, even though they may produce similar signs and symptoms.

Mar. 03, 2011