Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Neurological Complications of Cancer

Brain tumors, or neurological complications of other cancers, often have profound implications for patients and their families. Caring for patients with neuro-oncological disease is a complex task that requires input from many specialists.

Stanford Expertise Treating Neurological Complications of Cancer

To meet the challenge of treating the neurological complications of cancer, the Stanford Neuro-Oncology Program has developed an interdisciplinary team to care for adults and children with brain tumors or other neuro-oncological diseases. We have expertise treating:

Brain Metastases
The spread of cancers that originate in other areas to the brain, called brain metastasis, is one of the most common causes of tumors in the brain. About two-thirds of patients with brain metastases will have symptoms that can range from headache to vision problems to confusion. Typically, symptoms will get worse over time.

At the Stanford Cancer Center we are alert for early signs of brain metastases and have had success treating the tumors with the precision stereotactic radiosurgery enabled by the CyberKnife instrument.

Epidural Spinal Cord Compression
Metastasis of cancer into the spinal column, sometimes called epidural metastases, and is most common in people with breast, prostate, or lung cancer; lymphoma; sarcoma; multiple myeloma; renal cell carcinoma; or melanoma. These metastases can lead to spinal cord compression, which in the most severe cases can cause permanent paralysis and/or incontinence.

Early detection and treatment of epidural metastases can prevent painful and permanent disability. Cancer Center physicians are vigilant in detecting epidural metastases. When metastasis occurs physicians offer a full spectrum of treatment options, including referral to our surgical experts who specialize in treating these metastases and have great success maintaining patients mobility.

Plexopathies cause pain and occur when cancer spreads to the plexus, a network of interweaving nerves, blood vessels, or lymph vessels. Different tumors can metastasize to different parts of the plexus, for example if a lung cancer metastasizes to the plexus, it typically targets the brachial or thoracic plexus, whereas head and neck cancers typically target the cervical plexus.

Physicians at the Cancer Center are attentive to patient’s cancer pain and committed to reducing pain whenever possible. Whether caused by plexopathies or other effects, physicians and staff will offer all the treatments at their disposal for controlling pain.

Leptomeningeal Metastases
Cancer can also spread to the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord, called the leptomeningeal tissues. In adults, leptomeningeal metastases are most common from breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma. The most common symptoms is headache, however patients can also experience pain, nausea, weakness or problems with cognition.

Early detection can slow or prevent symptoms. Physicians at the Cancer Center have access to some of the best diagnostic imaging technologies. When leptomeningeal metastases are detected, patients may be able to enroll in clinical trials for new chemotherapies.

Vascular Disorders
There is a strong correlation between deep vein thrombosis and cancer: patients who present with deep vein thrombosis are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, and cancer patients are more likely than other patients to develop deep vein thrombosis following surgery.

Cancer Center physicians and staff are on the look out for signs of thrombosis in cancer patients and are quick to take preventive measures and treat the condition when it occurs.

Paraneoplastic Disorders
Paraneoplastic disorders are a group of conditions related only because they result from biological side effects of cancer. Tumors can release substances into the blood stream that have direct negative effects on the body, or that trigger inappropriate immune responses that can harm the body. Symptoms can range from hypocalcaemia and loss of appetite to nerve dysfunction and dementia.

Physicians at the Cancer Center offer various treatments for paraneoplastic disorders including those aimed at calming the immune system and speech and physical therapy to regain function.

Neurological Complications of Cancer Therapies
Unfortunately, the treatments you receive for cancer can also interfere with the proper functioning of your neurons. Cancer Center physicians will take every precaution to avoid these side effects whenever possible, and provide treatment for these side effects if they do occur.

Compassionate Care

Cancer Center physicians recognize that neurological complications of cancer can be distressing and difficult for patients, families, and caregivers. We are attentive to each patients’ quality of life and aim to always provide compassionate care that optimizes patient function and independence.

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