BACKGROUND: Pelvic cancers such as cancer of the cervix can spread locally to involve adjacent structures such as the lumbosacral plexus and the sympathetic chain. When this happens the prognosis is usually poor. An early suspicion of recurrence may result in investigation leading to earlier and better treatment. A physical sign that may be an early and only sign of recurrence is described.OBJECTIVE: To report the late Dr Ramon Evans’ unpublished case series of the hot foot syndrome due to (mostly malignant) retroperitoneal disease. This unique contribution is an opportunity to pay tribute to a man who was a meticulous recorder of the patient narrative and practitioner of a detailed and comprehensive physical examination.METHODS: A longitudinal, observational, retrospective, descriptive study is reported. Data were collected from a convenience sample of 86 patients, 75 of whom had retroperitoneal cancer and 11 of whom were diagnosed with other conditions in that area. Patients referred to the Smythe Pain Clinic were seen at both the Princess Margaret Hospital and Toronto General Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, in the 1970s. They were referred with intractable pain in the leg or back and often a history of a treated abdominal or pelvic cancer in the previous months or years. Baseline demographic data were collected including age, sex, diagnosis, pain location, characteristics and severity, physical findings, investigations and mortality.RESULTS: The 86 subjects comprised 27 men and 59 women. Carcinoma of the cervix was the most common tumour. Most had a presenting complaint of leg pain. Neurological physical signs were demonstrated in the lower extremities in 44%; however, 56% (48 patients) had only an ipsilateral, warm, dry ‘hot foot’ due to sympathetic deafferentation. The prognosis for the underlying illness was poor for the malignant group.DISCUSSION: Sympathetic interruption by cancer is well known in apical lung cancer as the tumour spreads upwards to involve the inferior brachial plexus. An analogous situation occurs as cancers, such as that of the cervix, spread laterally to invade the lumbosacral plexus and sympathetic chain. Signs of sympathetic deafferentation (the ‘hot foot’) may be the earliest and only sign in this situation. This sign may be missed unless it is anticipated and a thorough physical examination carried out.CONCLUSION: Evans’ sign is important because it may be an early and solitary sign of retroperitoneal recurrence of pelvic (cervix, rectum, bladder, ovary and prostate) cancers. Recognition of this finding when intractable pain in the back and leg occurs with a history of this type of cancer could lead to earlier and more successful treatment.