Which neurologic findings are characteristic of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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A neurologic examination should be performed to assess for focal neurological deficits caused by brain metastases and for signs of spinal cord compression. The skeletal system is a common site of spread of lung cancer, and metastatic lesions in the spine may grow and compress the spinal cord. Patients usually report back pain and neurological symptoms in the form of decreased sensation in the lower half of the body, decreased strength, loss of bowel control, and urinary incontinence or retention. A careful neurologic examination usually localizes the level of compression.

Suspected spinal cord compression is an emergency. Patients should immediately receive an adequate dose of a corticosteroid (usually intravenous dexamethasone, 10 mg followed by 4 mg q6h) and should undergo an immediate MRI scan of the vertebral column. If documented, spinal cord compression should be treated emergently with radiation therapy, and steroids should be tapered slowly.

A study by Fadel et al found that en bloc resection can achieve good long-term survival in highly selected patients with NSCLC that invades the thoracic inlet and spine. Factors that independently affected survival were incomplete resection and subclavian artery involvement. [41]

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