A man in the US who was receiving treatment for prostate cancer developed a foreign accent that medical researchers have concluded was a manifestation of foreign accent syndrome (FAS). The man, who was in his 50s and had no Irish background, developed an “uncontrollable Irish accent” consistent with the syndrome, according to the British Medical Journal. Despite undergoing medical imaging studies, there were no examinations that indicated any neurological abnormalities. However, researchers found that chemotherapy was ineffective in treating his cancer, which progressed to cause the paralysis thought to be singularly responsible for his death.
The man’s condition is said to have arisen from an underlying paraneoplastic neurological disorder. Such disorders are uncommon conditions where the body’s immune system attacks cancerous tumours resulting in damage to nearby healthy nerve cells. FAS is thought to be a relatively rare condition that causes sufferers to acquire an accent not normally associated with their background. A report in the NHS document on functional neurological disorders, which can result in functional speech disorders, notes that migraines, stroke, surgery or injury to the face or mouth, and seizures can also trigger the condition.
FAS has previously attracted widespread coverage, with the BMJ noting cases of similar speech deviations reported in people from the US, the UK and Australia. However, FAS has also been noted following traumatic head injuries, strokes, and in the wake of brain abscesses, according to the European Journal of Neurology. One of the most reported cases of FAS involved a British woman who, in 2016, began speaking with an American accent after a migraine. The woman was subsequently diagnosed with FAS.
As for the man this report is based on, his case is unusual in a number of ways. Firstly, despite developing the syndrome, the man never had any neurological health problems, leading the researchers to conclude that his cancer was most likely the underlying source of his problem. Secondly, despite undergoing chemotherapy, the man’s cancer caused a multifocal brain tumour resulting in what researchers describe as a “likely paraneoplastic ascending paralysis,” which caused his death. While the cancer treatment may have added longevity to his life, ultimately his condition is considered fatal, with the researchers suggesting that patients given the same cancer diagnosis should remain mindful that FAS may also occur.