That Tingling Feeling: New Therapies Are Evolving for Peripheral Neuropathy

Excitement is growing over new strategies for treating or avoiding peripheral neuropathy in patients with cancer.
MARILYN FENICHEL
PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 21, 2016
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast cancer CURE discussion group.
SUSAN FARISS,
pictured at her wedding - PHOTO BY JEFF SALMORE PHOTOGRAPHY
SUSAN FARISS, pictured at her wedding - PHOTO BY JEFF SALMORE PHOTOGRAPHY
When Susan Fariss, 51, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2012, she was given multiple therapies, including weekly chemotherapy infusions. Over a period of five months, Fariss noticed the cumulative effects of the treatment: Her exhaustion increased, and so did chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a problem with the nerves associated with sensation and muscle control in the arms and legs. The most common side effects are numbness of the fingers and toes, an uncomfortable feeling and even pain (known as dysesthesias), but CIPN can sometimes also affect strength and coordination, especially when the overall neuropathy symptoms are more severe.

“I kept dropping things and was literally falling over,” Fariss, of Washington D.C., recalls. “The neuropathy had a crippling effect on me. I worked with a yoga teacher who had an expertise in cancer and I exercised at home, but it still took more than a year for me to get my strength back.”

Taxol (paclitaxel), a taxane-based chemotherapy often used to treat breast cancer and the one given to Fariss, is a prime culprit. Some studies have shown that neuropathy from Abraxane and other taxane chemotherapies is dose-dependent, and its effects build over time. A schedule of one larger infusion per week, as opposed to more frequent smaller doses, also has been implicated, though not all studies have found this to be the case.

Karen Lisa Smith, M.D., a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington D.C., has noticed in her practice that weekly Abraxane causes “a bit more neuropathy.” She prescribes the antidepressant Cymbalta (duloxetine) to patients experiencing pain, but has seen no consensus in the data about the effectiveness of medications to treat the other symptoms of neuropathy. “Drugs aren’t necessarily the answer,” Smith notes. “Right now, treatment options are limited.”



Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast cancer CURE discussion group.
x-button
 
CURE wants to hear from you! We are inviting you to Share Your Story with the readers of CURE. Submit your personal experience with cancer by visiting Share Your Story
 
Not yet receiving CURE in your mailbox? Sign up to receive CURE Magazine by visiting GetCureNow.com