Chemotherapy Related Neuropathy: Managing this Nerve Wracking Problem

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While chemotherapy can kill cancer cells, certain chemotherapy drugs can also cause an uncomfortable and distressing condition that may produce numbness, tingling, and discomfort in the arms or legs. This condition, known as peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), can make it difficult for people to perform day-to-day activities.

Although there is no sure prevention for CIPN, there are ways to control the pain and minimize its effects on quality of life, says Cindy Tofthagen, PhD, ARNP, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of South Florida and post-doctoral fellow at Dana-Farber and the University of Massachusetts.

The condition, which results from nerve damage caused by cancer drug therapies, affects 30-100 percent of patients, depending on the chemotherapy drug used.

“When you’re finished with treatment and the cancer is gone, you think that you’re going back to your normal life and everything is going to be just as it was, but CIPN limits that,” says Tofthagen.

Dana-Farber’s Blum Patient and Family Resource Center recently organized an event with Tofthagen titled “Chemotherapy Related Neuropathy: Managing This Nerve Wracking Problem.” Tofthagen spoke about the risk factors of CIPN and how to manage the condition.

“Hopefully someday we’ll be able to prevent CIPN altogether, but for now you can control the symptoms and continue to live life to the fullest,” Tofthagen says. “It takes time and persistence, and a multidisciplinary approach, but the symptoms can definitely be controlled.”

To view Tofthagen’s presentation, visit the Dana-Farber Slideshare page.

13 comments

  1. debra franzen says:

    Well I sure hope so. You make it sound very hopeful. I am I x patient from dana Farber where I receive my chemo., no one there seemed to be able to help me and I am going on 4 yesrs of hell from vincintine. I am out of work and currenly enjoy a 5 on the pain scale with tons on meds. I search every where for dome hope. I just turned 54.

    • Loreen Eliason says:

      I am currently doing chemo and have been following the advice of my incredible “chemo nurse” who told me to take B-6 vitamins. I am and although I have this condition, it has not advanced. I was only to do four rounds of chemo every 21 days, but because I am tolerating it so well, I am doing six. I have lung cancer so after these six rounds, I don’t know what’s in store at this point.

    • Lois Nally says:

      I’ve had the same chemo and a lot of it over time. I was left with the same horrid neuropathy & it seemed my feet were on fire. My PCP suggested Neurontin 600 mg. I found this too strong so I cut it in half and it does help immensely. And I went thru years too with no one knowing what to do. Best of luck!!!!!

  2. Andrea says:

    I suffer from this condition and would love more information.

    • Lois Nally says:

      I gave another person this piece of advice. I’ve had a lot of chemo over time. I was left with the same horrid neuropathy & it seemed my feet were on fire. My PCP suggested Neurontin 600 mg. I found this too strong so I cut it in half and it does help immensely. And I went thru years too with no one knowing what to do. Best of luck!!!!!

    • Dana-Farber says:

      Dear Andrea–

      We’re sorry to hear about your health issues. We encourage you to talk with your primary care physician or another member of your care team about any symptoms you are having.

      Cindy Tofthagen’s presentation offers some tips and resources for people experiencing neuropathy. In addition, Dana-Farber patients can find more information on therapies and patient education through the Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies and Blum Family Resource Center.

      Best of luck to you!

  3. Marco T. Barraza says:

    i am a cancer surviver and have neuropathy. would like some inf please much appreciated …

  4. Drorit says:

    I am a breast cancer patient and I suffer from “Chemotherapy Related Neuropathy” I am currently on Gabapentine 300mg capsule 4 a day it causes me to be tiered. I took Ibuprofen and now I’m on Tylenol which did help but does not anymore. Now at bed time I need to take2 pills of 2mg Hydromorphone and only then I can fall asleep I do not have an easy sleep as I can feel the pain. The pill is good only for 5-6 hours in a good case…I wonder what next??? My son recommended Lyrica! I will ask the doctor about it tomorrow and let all you “comrades to the pain” know when if it helps.

    • Matt Thelander says:

      I am a cancer survivor and I have been dealing with peripheral neuropathy every since I finished chemo in 2009. I have tried many medications and therapies over the years with limited sucess. I have found some relief by taking Lyrica, I currently take 100mg twice a day. It’s side effects for me are more manageable compared to other meds I have tried. It took some time to get used to taking it but it gives me around 60% relief. It works well enough I can function good at work and home. I have good days and I have flare ups overall it helps smooth out the ups and downs. I hope you and others are able to find some relief..

  5. Kim says:

    I had chemo for ovarian cancer, beginning in October three years ago (2010). I had severe pain in my legs beginning with my treatments and months afterwards (sorry..I can’t remember how long it lingered but at least for 1 1/2 years). During treatment morphine managed it (a small dosage) and motrin and other over the counter meds did not help.

    In the Fall of 2011 I began taking lyrica and that appeared to help but the weight gain was horrible. I went off it and then went on Meloxicam (sorry..don’t have my meds in front of me) and tolerated that but then decided to just go off meds and by then (maybe fall 2012) the pain was all gone!

    I don’t have routine pain anymore. I wish the same for all of you because I know how disturbing it is.

  6. Fluckiger Rudolf says:

    I am a cancer patient with neuropathy and would like to have your contact information. Thank you for responding

    • Dana-Farber says:

      Dear Fluckiger Rudolf –

      We are sorry to hear about your health concerns. We would recommend speaking with your physician or a member of your care team about your neuropathy, and they may be able to refer you to the appropriate services. The presentation above also includes a number of local and national resources for neuropathy (check out slides #36 and #37). We hope this is helpful.

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