One hundred and fifty patients presenting with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) to chest physicians, were assessed neurologically. Neuromuscular or autonomic deficits were common and occurred in up to 44% of cases. Weakness, dry mouth, and weight loss were not mutually independent and may represent the syndrome formerly described as carcinomatous neuromyopathy. By contrast, undoubted paraneoplastic syndromes were much less commonly detected. Two patients had the Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) and one had subacute sensory neuropathy (SSN). In these patients, neurological symptoms antedated other manifestations of cancer, by between six and 17 months. The 95% confidence interval for the prevalence of LEMS or SSN among SCLC patients was 0-4%, consistent with the results of previous retrospective or smaller studies: summing these, the overall prevalence of LEMS among SCLC patients is close to 3%, which implies about 250 new cases per annum in England and Wales. If LEMS and SSN are the least uncommon neurological paraneoplastic syndromes in SCLC patients, this may reflect the accessibility of motor nerve terminals and dorsal root ganglia to cross-reactive anti-tumour cell antibodies.
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