Paraneoplastic Syndrome Treatments

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson briefly describes the key characteristics of paraneoplastic syndrome. Then, it delves into the two general treatment approaches used for a paraneoplastic disorder, one that targets the cancer and one that targets the body's response to it.

Cancer & Harmful Substances

There are signs near street gutters in some places that say 'Dump No Waste!' because the water drains immediately back into a public water source without filtration. If you were to dump something toxic into the drain, it would spread all over the water system, harming everybody!

Well, some types of cancers do something similar. They dump harmful substances or harmful amounts of normal substances into our bloodstream. These substances travel all over the body and harm the person as a result. There's a name for this problem, it's called paraneoplastic syndrome.

This lesson briefly describes what it is and some potential treatment options.

What Is A Paraneoplastic Syndrome

A paraneoplastic syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that are related to one of two things. First, harmful substances or a harmful amount of a substance produced by the cancer, such as a hormone, can damage the body. Or second, it could be our body's immune system's response to the presence of the cancer that ends up harming the body. Either way, a person's cells, tissues, and hormone levels can all be affected as a result of this and that may lead to everything from muscle damage, to hair loss, to vision problems, and much more.

Paraneoplastic Syndrome Treatments

The reason there is such a wide variety of problems that may be a part of a paraneoplastic syndrome is because the type of cancer and/or the body's reaction to it will end up causing any one of a number of problems. There is no one sign or symptom that occurs in every person with a case of paraneoplastic syndrome, it varies. Ergo, the specific form of treatment will vary as well and the multitudes of these cannot be addressed in one lesson alone.

That being said, we can provide an outline of a general treatment approach with respect to a case of a paraneoplastic disorder.

First, consider the following. If you knew that a problem, any problem whatsoever, with your computer was being caused by a bad software program, what would you do to try and resolve this 'disorder'? You'd uninstall the program, right? Well, we'd similarly want to get rid of the cancer causing the paraneoplastic disorder. We can try this with any combination of the following:

  • Surgery, where we physically remove the tumor out of the body
  • Chemotherapy, where we use chemicals to 'poison' the cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, where we fry the cancer cells away

Another general treatment approach goes something like this. When you're in a fight, you can try win the fight by overpowering your enemy or by weakening the enemy. Recall that one of the two main ways by which a paraneoplastic disorder manifests itself is by our immune system's reaction to the cancer. So if we could weaken this reaction, then we could put a dent into the paraneoplastic disorder that has arisen as a result of it. Consequently, we can use immunosuppressive drugs, drugs that weaken the immune system, to try and reverse the paraneoplastic disorder. One such class of drugs is called steroids.

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