Neuropathy causes tingling or numbness, especially in the hands and feet. It affects about one to two percent of Americans and is caused by damage to a single or multiple nerves. There are different types, but peripheral neuropathy is the most common in those with cancer.
Peripheral neuropathy may develop at any phase of the cancer journey, even some time after treatment is finished. Knowing what some of the causes are and being able to describe your symptoms to your health care team can help you manage neuropathy. Symptoms are often ignored by both patients and health care professionals. If you have symptoms of neuropathy, it is important to discuss this with your health care team as soon as possible.
Peripheral neuropathy can affect the nerves that tell you the position of your hands or feet that let you sense hot or cold or that senses pain. You can experience a tingling or numbness in certain areas of the body, commonly the hands and feet. These sensations can range from mild to painful and are almost always greatest at night.
It’s not easy to deal with neuropathy. If you notice symptoms, talk to your health care team immediately.
Neuropathy may occur from cancer or the treatment received. Cancer types with higher risk of neuropathy include: lung, breast, ovarian, myeloma, lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease and testicular.
Discuss all of these risks with your health care team.
The peripheral nerves have a great ability to heal. Even though it may take months, recovery can occur. However, in some situations, symptoms of neuropathy may lessen but not completely go away. For example, nerve injury caused by radiation often does not recover well. Neuropathy caused by chemotherapy is also difficult to cure, and recovery may take 18 months to five years or longer. During recovery of platinum-induced neuropathy, patients may suffer increased symptoms.
Treatments for peripheral neuropathy depend on the cause. For instance:
Pain from neuropathy can greatly affect your daily activities and quality of life. Symptoms of neuropathy can range from mild to severe. Each survivor's experience will be different. However, with appropriate treatment, the effects of neuropathy can be limited.
Survivors with temperature sensitivity should avoid extreme temperatures, and use protective clothing as needed. If there is numbness or an inability to feel pain, it is important to pay careful attention to the skin on the hands and feet because there could be an undetected wound or a break in the skin.
If there is pain, day-to-day activities such as putting on shoes or using covers over the feet at night can be difficult. Keep in mind that there are treatments that can lessen the pain. Talk with your health care team about potential treatments as soon as possible.
If neuropathy affects your ability to feel the foot pedals of a car, you should not drive unless your car is adapted for hand controls. Slowed reaction time in moving your foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal may cause an accident. If you lose the ability to drive, you may feel you are losing your independence. However, consider the increased risk to your safety and to the safety of others.
Ask your health care team to provide suggestions and special equipment to make daily tasks safe and easier to manage. The suggestions may include night lights, grab bars and other home safety measures to help reduce the risk of falling. Physical and occupational therapists can assist survivors with physical exercises that can help them maintain physical abilities.
For some, neuropathy can lead to physical and mental stress. Watch for signs of depression, and seek immediate help from your health care team. Together, you can deal with peripheral neuropathy.