Are you suffering from neuropathy pain or dysfunction from chemotherapy treatment? If you are, you are not alone. A recent study of more than 4000 chemotherapy-treated patients found the prevalence of CIPN to be 68.1% within the first month of chemotherapy treatment, 60.0% at 3 months, and 30.0% at 6 months (National Institute of Health, 2016). Under-reporting CIPN symptoms continues to challenge doctors researching or working to prevent CIPN symptoms. Understanding more about symptoms, their causes, and treatment options can help you now in the future.
650,000 cancer patients receive chemotherapy each year in the United States, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chemotherapy provides effective treatment to treat cancer, but carries its own dangerous side effects. Chemotherapy strives to slow the rapid growth of cancer cells. But, since it is a systemic therapy it may affect your entire body. It can affect the growth of healthy cells too. Chemotherapy medications can damage peripheral nerves resulting in painful neuropathy. Neuropathy is refers to general diseases or malfunctions of the nerves. Neuropathy caused by chemotherapy is referred to as Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN).
Symptoms of CIPN depend on which nerve is being affected. The American Cancer Society provides the following list of typical symptoms:
Pain (which may be there all the time or come and go, like shooting or stabbing pain)
Tingling (“pins and needles” feeling) or electric/shock-like pain
Loss of feeling (which can be numbness or just less ability to sense pressure, touch, heat, or cold)
Trouble using your fingers to pick up or hold things; dropping things
Trouble with tripping or stumbling while walking
Being more sensitive to cold or heat
Being more sensitive to touch or pressure
Trouble passing urine
Blood pressure changes
Decreased or no reflexes
The most common complaint of CIPN is pain. Walking, writing, picking up small objects, or simply buttoning your shirt can become real challenges. More serious forms of CIPN can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and organs.
Don’t dismiss neuropathy symptoms. If you are a patient undergoing chemotherapy, alert your healthcare provider immediately of any neuropathy-related symptoms. They may need to change your dosage, or frequency of doses, to prevent more serious issues. Some doctors utilize a stop-and-go treatment plan. This treatment plan administers chemo until a certain dose is hit, or until CIPN arrives at a certain level. Treatment ceases until the CIPN improves or the cancer resumes growing. Chemo is then restarted, but at a lower dose than before. Patients have found success with several treatments, vitamins, dietary supplements, and preventative actions. CIPN prevention and treatment is ongoing.
It is important to note that the duration of neuropathy symptoms from chemotherapy is not predictable. Typically, neuropathy symptoms will cease after chemotherapy treatment is over, but sometimes long-term treatment is needed from ongoing neuropathy issues. In severe cases, CIPN may become a chronic issue.
Most medical providers will agree that a patient should turn to the most natural, non-invasive treatment option available first. Introducing drugs, with their potential side effects, should be avoided unless other avenues do not work. Some non-pharmaceutical treatment options for CIPN include:
Electrical nerve stimulation
While researchers are still studying drugs that can best treat CIPN issues, the following pharmaceutical approaches are prescribed:
Short-term steroid use
Numbing patches or creams applied on painful area
Small-dose antidepressant medicines
Opioids or narcotics (for severe pain)
Work closely with your healthcare team to manage your chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Changes or difficulties with how you feel, move or hold things need to be communicated to your doctor. Talk to your doctor about any pain you experience to get to the source of it. Don’t let neuropathy symptoms endanger your quality of life now or in the future. Act fast when symptoms hit. Your response to changes in your body can save you from chronic issues.