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The distinctive clinical features of paraneoplastic sensory neuronopathy.

A 15-year experience with paraneoplastic sensory neuronopathy at the Mayo Clinic is reviewed. Of 26 patients with paraneoplastic sensory neuropathy, 19 had small cell lung cancer, 4 had breast cancer, and 3 had other neoplasms. There was a striking predominance of females (20:6). Neuropathic symptoms (pain, paresthesia, sensory loss) were asymmetric at onset, with a predilection for the upper limbs; in three patients, symptoms were confined to the arms. Electrophysiologic testing revealed absent sensory responses and normal or minimally altered motor responses. Slightly more than half the patients had associated autonomic, cerebellar, or cerebral abnormalities. In some patients, treatment of the neoplasm seemed to halt progression of the neuronopathy, but none had neurologic improvement and most continued to worsen, even when the oncologic response was good. Distinguishing between paraneoplastic and nonparaneoplastic sensory neuronopathies can be difficult, but prominent neuropathic pain, neurologic dysfunction involving more than the peripheral sensory system, or an increased cerebrospinal fluid protein value should prompt a careful search for a cancer.

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