Chemotherapy is still the most common and effective treatment for many types of cancer. However, it comes with a variety of side effects that you might need to manage. While chemotherapy kills the cancer cells in the body, it can also damage the nerves, which in turn can lead to peripheral neuropathy.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve disorder that can cause tingling, pain, numbness, and weakness throughout your body. Unfortunately, it is not possible to know whether you will suffer from peripheral neuropathy when you get your cancer treatment. The most common symptom of peripheral neuropathy is tingling, pain, and numbness in the fingers and toes. This happens when the small sensory nerves are affected.
A less common result of nerve damage leading to peripheral neuropathy affects internal function and movement control. When these nerves are damaged, you’ll get dizzy when you stand or sit. Other internal symptoms include blood pressure changes, bowel symptoms, and an irregular heartbeat.
In most cases, peripheral neuropathy resolves itself or lessens over time. It might take up to six months or longer for your symptoms to resolve. In some cases, however, the nerve damage cannot be reversed.
How is Peripheral Neuropathy Diagnosed?
When you’re dealing with pain or tingling in your hands or feet, make sure to contact your doctor. You will need to discuss the type of chemotherapy used, the dosage, and other symptoms you experience. During the exam, your doctor will do a variety of neurophysiologic tests to find out the severity of the neuropathy. Talk to your doctor about the variety of symptoms you face, as well as treatment options you’re most interested in.
Peripheral neuropathy is more common in patients that have pre-existing conditions. If you are malnourished, have vitamin deficiencies, have had chemotherapy previously, or have chronic conditions such as diabetes, make sure you mention this to your doctor.
How is Peripheral Neuropathy Treated?
There are a number of treatments for the pain, tingling, and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy. Your doctor might prescribe medications to help reduce the sensory problems and pain associated with the disorder. Doctors also regularly recommend physical therapy to help with weakness and to improve fine motor skills and coordination. Researchers are continually studying peripheral neuropathy treatments, and more might be on the horizon.
You can also try non-medication treatments to help with your neuropathy. These option include massage, acupuncture, and even dietary changes. While these treatment options won’t fix the problem, they can help relieve some of the symptoms you’re experiencing. Frequently, patients use these nontraditional treatments in combination with medication to help further improve their quality of life and lessen their overall pain.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common side effect of radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer. While it is painful and uncomfortable, there are several treatment options to discuss with your doctor. Make sure to get the treatment you need to live pain-free.