Neurologic complications of cancer and its treatment

Curr Oncol Rep. 2010 Jan;12(1):50-9. doi: 10.1007/s11912-009-0071-x.


The central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) are very susceptible to cancer and its treatment. The most direct involvement of the nervous system manifests in the development of primary brain and spinal cord tumors. Many cancers exhibit a propensity toward spread to the CNS, and brain metastases are common problems seen in malignancies such as lung, breast, and melanoma. Such spread may involve the brain or spine parenchyma or the subarachnoid space. In the PNS, spread is usually through direct infiltration of nerve roots, plexi, or muscle by neighboring malignancies. In some cases, cancer has sudden, devastating effects on the nervous system: epidural spinal cord compression or cord transection from pathologic fractures of vertebra involved by cancer; increased intracranial pressure from intracranial mass lesion growth and edema; and uncontrolled seizure activity as a result of intracranial tumors (status epilepticus), which are neuro-oncologic emergencies. The best known indirect or remote effects of cancer on the nervous system are the neurologic paraneoplastic syndromes. Cancer can also result in a hypercoagulable state causing cerebrovascular complications. Treatment of cancer can have neurologic complications. The commonest of these complications are radiation-induced injury to the brain, spine, and peripheral nerves and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. The suppressant effect of cancer and its treatment on the body's immune system can result in infectious complications within the nervous system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / therapy