Oncologic emergencies: Pathophysiology, presentation, diagnosis, and treatment

CA: a Cancer Journal for Clinicians
Mark A LewisTimothy J Moynihan

Abstract

Oncologic emergencies can occur at any time during the course of a malignancy, from the presenting symptom to end-stage disease. Although some of these conditions are related to cancer therapy, they are by no means confined to the period of initial diagnosis and active treatment. In the setting of recurrent malignancy, these events can occur years after the surveillance of a cancer patient has been appropriately transferred from a medical oncologist to a primary care provider. As such, awareness of a patient's cancer history and its possible complications forms an important part of any clinician's knowledge base. Prompt identification of and intervention in these emergencies can prolong survival and improve quality of life, even in the setting of terminal illness. This article reviews hypercalcemia, hyponatremia, hypoglycemia, tumor lysis syndrome, cardiac tamponade, superior vena cava syndrome, neutropenic fever, spinal cord compression, increased intracranial pressure, seizures, hyperviscosity syndrome, leukostasis, and airway obstruction in patients with malignancies. Chemotherapeutic emergencies are also addressed.

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