Paraneoplastic syndromes affecting the nervous system

Semin Oncol. 1997 Jun;24(3):318-28.


Paraneoplastic syndromes can affect virtually any portion of the nervous system. Most paraneoplastic syndromes are believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction to an "onconeural" antigen shared by the cancer and the nervous system. The immune reaction may retard growth of the cancer, but it also damages the nervous system. Specific autoantibodies found in some individual paraneoplastic syndromes are usually associated with specific tumors. Neurological disorders, clinically and pathologically identical to paraneoplastic syndromes, may occur in some patients without cancer, but paraneoplastic antibodies are not found in these patients. The diagnosis of a paraneoplastic syndrome is based on its increased incidence in patients with cancer, the occasional response of the neurological syndrome to treatment of the underlying cancer, or the presence of specific autoantibodies. Some paraneoplastic syndromes respond to treatment of the underlying cancer or to immunosuppression but, for most syndromes, no effective treatment exists.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / analysis
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Diseases* / immunology
  • Nervous System Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Nervous System Diseases* / therapy
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes* / diagnosis
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes* / immunology
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes* / physiopathology
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes* / therapy


  • Autoantibodies