Myelopathies in patients with cancer

Arch Neurol. 2010 Mar;67(3):298-304. doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2010.20.


Myelopathy is a devastating neurologic complication of cancer. The resulting pain, paralysis, and incontinence can turn a patient with cancer from a functioning individual to one who is confined to a chair or bed. Early diagnosis and appropriate therapy can prevent or ameliorate these symptoms and improve both duration of survival and quality of life. Accurate neurologic assessment of patients is crucial for early diagnosis and correct therapy. Myelopathy in patients with cancer is not rare. Epidural spinal cord compression (SCC) affects an estimated 5% of patients with cancer; other disorders such as intramedullary spinal cord metastases, adverse effects of therapy, and paraneoplastic spinal cord syndromes, although less common, are equally devastating. Because of space limitations, this review addresses the pathophysiology, clinical findings, diagnosis, and treatment of only some of the myelopathies that affect patients with cancer (Table 1). Because of new data, epidural SCC and paraneoplastic syndromes are emphasized.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / therapy*