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What is the average life expectancy of a person with cancer in his spinal fluid?

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Quick Answer

Cancer that spreads to the spinal fluid is called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, and the average life expectancy of this condition without treatment is four to six weeks, explains Medscape. Patients who receive treatment have an average survival time of two to three months.

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Full Answer

The symptoms of leptomeningeal carcinomatosis include headaches that are associated with nausea, vomiting and lightheadedness; movement problems due to weakness and ataxia; memory problems; incontinence; and problems with sensation, according to Medscape. Depending on the affected regions in the central nervous system, patients may experience additional symptoms due to cerebral, cranial nerve and spinal-root involvement.

Cerebral involvement can cause headaches, lethargy, changes in behavior and problems with movement, explains Medscape. Cranial nerve involvement can cause vision impairment, double vision, sensory deficits, vertigo and cranial-nerve palsies. When the nerves of the spinal root are affected, patients can experience neck stiffness, neck and back pain or invasion of the spinal roots.

Treatment consists of chemotherapy, radiation and supportive care, notes Medscape. Some doctors are reluctant to treat leptomeningeal carcinomatosis because of the short survival time of patients and the risk of neurotoxicity. Commonly used medications include methotrexate, cytarabine and thiotepa. Patients who respond well to these drugs can receive radiation therapy aimed at bulky tumors and symptomatic areas.

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