Peripheral Neuropathy

"Whether you believe you can do a thing or believe you can't, you are right."
~ Henry Ford

What is it?

Chemo induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) results from damage to the peripheral nerves commonly in the feet and hands and is caused by certain chemo drugs. The feeling can be described as pain, tingling, numbness, burning, loss of sensation, weakness and difficulty picking things up. The effect starts at the extremities and progresses in a stocking or glove fashion. It may appear suddenly with your first treatment or gradually over a period of treatments. It may also affect the bowel, face, back and chest. Peripheral neuropathy may be so severe as to stop or delay your chemo treatments allowing the body time to recover. The condition may clear up with treatment cessation or it may be permanent. There are no drugs available which successfully inhibit or cure peripheral neuropathy. Individuals who are at higher risk of developing this condition include people with diabetes, alcoholics, HIV/AIDS and those who have undergone previous chemotherapy treatments.

Conventional Wisdom:

Peripheral neuropathy can be treated with various means including pain relievers, antidepressants, anti-seizure medication, physical therapy and occupational therapy to name a few. Constipation resulting from CIPN needs to be addressed with the appropriate laxatives. Hands and feet must be especially protected when cooking, near hot and cold water and in cold climates. Special care needs to be taken when balance becomes problematic.

Self Help:

Paclitaxel and other taxane-based drugs are frontline chemotherapies used in fighting ovarian cancer.  They are notorious for causing peripheral neuropathy if not at first, then quite predictably after a number of infusions.  Chemo induced peripheral neuropathy can act in a wave-like fashion with your treatment cycle – flaring during nadir and fading as you recover.  This is the best possible outcome.  Often though, it stays with you and sometimes worsens until your total treatment cycle is concluded. 

There are a number of supplements commonly used in the treatment and possible prevention or early onset of peripheral neuropathy including alpha lipoic acid, lycine, l-glutamine and B12.  Always check with your healthcare practitioner as to suitability and dosage.

Exercise, massage and other forms of stimulation seem to be of benefit as well. Acupuncture is highly recommended.

Protection of the effected areas is vital including the use of rubber gloves in the kitchen and garden as well as wearing heavily padded socks and soft-soled shoes. Inspect your hands and feet regularly for cuts or abrasions.

Severe peripheral neuropathy is a major quality of life issue when deciding to continue treatment with the offending drugs.  Permanent loss of feeling accompanied by pain in your hands and feet is a possibility.

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We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.