The spectrum of neurological disease in patients with systemic cancer
Nervous System Diseases
To ascertain the range of neurological problems in patients with systemic cancer, we prospectively evaluated neurological symptoms, neurological diagnoses, and primary tumors in all patients with a history of systemic cancer examined by the Department of Neurology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, from Jul 1, 1990, to Dec 31, 1990. Of the 815 patients seen for neurological symptoms, less than half (45.2%) had metastatic involvement of the nervous system. The three most common symptoms were back pain (18.2%), altered mental status (17.1%), and headache (15.4%). The most common neurological diagnosis was brain metastasis (15.9%), followed by metabolic encephalopathy (10.2%), pain associated with bone metastases only (9.9%), and epidural extension or metastasis of tumor (8.4%). Of 133 patients with undiagnosed back or neck pain, 44 (33%) had epidural extension or metastases from tumor and 40 (30%) had pain associated with vertebral metastases only. In 15 (11%) the cause for the back pain was unrelated to metastatic disease. Of 132 patients seen on initial consultation for altered mental status, metabolic encephalopathy was the major neurological diagnosis (80; 61%); 20 (15%) had intracranial metastases. Of 97 patients with undiagnosed headache, 59 (61%) had a nonstructural cause. Fifty-three of these patients had either migraine, tension headache, or headache related to systemic illness (e.g., fever, sepsis). These results indicate that even in patients with systemic cancer, a group particularly prone to developing neurological disease that can be diagnosed radiologically, the role of clinicians remains important in helping distinguish noncancer-related and nonmetastatic neurological problems.