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cancer treatment

Neuropathy

Chemotherapy drug treatments can cause neuropathy, or injury to the peripheral nerves. These consist of motor nerves that help with movement and muscle tone and sensory nerves that help with temperature, pain and touch. The symptoms of neuropathy depend on the nerve type that is affected.  

Symptoms of motor nerve damage include muscle weakness, spasms, cramps, and possibly loss of balance and coordination. Sensory nerve damage can result in pain, numbness, tingling (burning, freezing sensation), and extreme sensitivity to touch. 

If peripheral neuropathy goes untreated, it can develop into permanent damage to nerves, tissues and muscles. Proper treatment can help reduce the risk of irreparable damage and other serious consequences. 

Drugs That Cause Neuropathy

Patients that receive vinca alkaloids (anticancer drugs that stop cancer cell growth by inhibiting cell division) are susceptible to develop neuropathy during their treatment. The condition may develop weeks, month or years even after treatments end. The symptoms may wane as the nerves heal.

Some chemotherapy drugs that are known to cause neuropathy are cisplatin, paclitaxel, oxaliplatin, vincristine, thalidomide and bortezomib. Patients that are already experience nerve damage by other conditions such as diabetes or excessive alcohol use are more prone to develop chemotherapy drug related neuropathy. 

Drug Treatments for Neuropathy

Physicians are investigating some drugs such as anticonvulsants (used in the treatment of epileptic seizures) and antidepressants to help treat the symptoms of neuropathy.

Doctors have found these drugs helpful in managing the condition even though the Food and Drug Administration has not given approval of these drugs for neuropathy treatment. 

Anticonvulsants such as Neurontin have been administered to patients with the condition. Doctors prescribe a low dose to begin and increase as time goes on to help manage pain.  

Some antidepressants used to manage neuropathy symptoms are nortriptyline and amitriptyline.  

Other Non-Drug Treatments for Neuropathy

Some of the following methods can be used in combination with drug treatment or alone to help manage symptoms of neuropathy: 

– massage 
– herbs 
– acupuncture 
– physical therapy to help strengthen muscles 
– occupational therapy to help with assistance of daily tasks 

Another technique is to use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to help stop pain signals from going to the brain by using painless electrical impulses by placing electrodes on the skin. TENS seems to be more effective with acute pain and less effective with chronic pain.