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Paraneoplastic Syndromes

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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What is a paraneoplastic syndrome?

A neoplasm is an abnormal growth in your body that may be cancerous. If something is “neoplastic,” it has to do with the neoplasm. A paraneoplastic syndrome is a set of symptoms that are caused by a cancer. The symptoms happen in a different area of your body from your cancer.

Most people with cancer don’t get a paraneoplastic syndrome.

  • Paraneoplastic syndromes are caused by your cancer making hormones or your immune system making antibodies (substances that protect your body against certain infection) that flow through your blood

  • Paraneoplastic syndromes cause different symptoms depending on the tissues and organs they occur in

  • About 1 out of 5 people with cancer get a paraneoplastic syndrome—it's most common with lung cancer

What are the symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes?

General symptoms

  • Fever

  • Night sweats

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss

Skin symptoms

  • Itching

  • Skin flushing or blushing, causing your face, neck, or upper chest to become warm and red

  • You may get noncancerous skin bumps or shingles (a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox)

Neurologic (brain, spinal cord, and nerve) symptoms

  • Weakness or loss of strength

  • Loss of feeling

  • Slower reflexes

  • Trouble using different parts of your body the way you want, such as your arms or legs

  • Trouble speaking

  • Dizziness

  • Double vision (when you see 2 of the same object) or being unable to control your eye movements

The cancer can cause these symptoms without pushing on your nerves or spinal cord

Endocrine (hormone system) symptoms

  • Weakness

  • Weight gain

  • High blood pressure or heart valve problems

  • Confusion

  • Kidney problems

  • Red, warm skin

  • Wheezing

  • Diarrhea

Other symptoms

  • Muscle swelling that causes weakness and soreness

  • Painful swelling of your joints that may change the shape of your fingers and toes

  • Changes to your blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets)