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Paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy associated with adenocarcinoma of the lung – a rare entity with atypical onset: a case report

Angela Acciavatti*, Tiziana Avolio, Simone Rappuoli, Luca Foderi, Vittoria Soldati, Massimo Franchi, Nila Volpi and Ranuccio Nuti

Author Affiliations

Department of Internal Medicine, University of Siena, Viale Bracci, 53100, Siena, Italy

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Journal of Medical Case Reports 2013, 7:112  doi:10.1186/1752-1947-7-112

Published: 25 April 2013



Inflammatory myopathies (such as dermatomyositis and polymyositis) are well-recognized paraneoplastic syndromes. However, paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy is a more recently defined clinical entity, characterized by rapidly progressive, symmetrical, predominantly proximal muscle weakness with severe disability, and associated with a marked increase in serum muscle enzyme levels. Paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy requires muscle biopsy for diagnosis, which typically shows massive necrosis of muscle fibers with limited or absent inflammatory infiltrates.

Case presentation

We report the case of an 82-year-old Italian-born Caucasian man who was admitted to hospital because of heart failure and two drop attacks. Over the following days, he developed progressive severe weakness, dysphagia, and dysphonia. Testing showed increasing serum muscle enzyme levels. Electromyography showed irritative myopathy of the proximal muscles and sensorimotor polyneuropathy. Muscle biopsy (left vastus lateralis) showed massive necrosis of muscle fibers with negligible inflammatory infiltrates, complement membrane attack complex deposition on endomysial capillaries, and moderate upregulation of major histocompatibility complex-I. Computed tomography of the thorax showed a nodular mass in the apex of the right lung. The patient was diagnosed with paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy. In spite of high-dose corticoid therapy, he died 1 month later because of his aggressive cancer. Subsequent electron microscopic examination of a muscle biopsy specimen showed thickened walls and typical pipestem changes of the endomysial capillaries, with swollen endothelial cells. Poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma of the lung was confirmed on post-mortem histological examination.


Paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy is a rare syndrome with outcomes ranging from fast progression to complete recovery. Treatment with corticosteroids is often ineffective, and prognosis depends mainly on the characteristics of the underlying cancer. This case shows that paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy may have an atypical appearance, and should be considered in elderly patients with neoplastic disease. In this case, the diagnosis was delayed by the unusual clinical picture that suggested heart disease rather than muscle disease.

Paraneoplastic myopathy; Paraneoplastic necrotizing myopathy; Paraneoplastic syndrome