Nerve Damage: A Side Effect of Some Chemotherapy
One fairly common side effect of certain chemotherapy regimens is peripheral neuropathy. This is typically called "chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy," or CIPN. The peripheral nervous system sends messages between the brain and spinal cord and the rest of the body. Neuropathy is damage to the nerves. There are three types of peripheral nerves:
- Motor nerves, which send information that tells muscles to move
- Sensory nerves, which make it possible for you to feel heat, cold, pain and pressure
- Autonomic nerves, which help regulate your heart beat, your breathing and your blood pressure
CIPN is most likely to occur when you've had higher doses or multiple doses of chemotherapy. The most common chemotherapy drugs that can cause CIPN include Vincristine, Vinblastine, Taxol, Taxotere and Cisplatin.
Common CIPN symptoms
There are many different symptoms of CIPN, depending on which kinds of nerves are affected.
If motor nerves are affected, you may experience:
- Heaviness in your arms or legs
- Difficulty using your hands and fingers to do things like button clothing or pick up objects
- Trouble lifting your feet or toes
If sensory nerves are affected, you may experience:
- Numbness or a "pins and needles" feeling in your arms and legs
- A feeling of coldness in your arms or legs
- Trouble hearing
- Ringing in your ears
- Changes in vision
Other symptoms you may notice include
- Feeling dizzy when you stand up
- Feeling as if your heart is racing
- Being constipated
Your skin may also be extremely sensitive. It may be painful to feel a cold breeze blowing over it, for example, when that kind of thing never was painful before.
It's difficult to predict whether a person will develop neuropathy or not, and if you do, it's hard to say at what point in treatment it will develop. Sometimes it occurs very soon after treatment begins, but other times it takes much longer.
Tell your doctor about CIPN symptoms right away
There are many things you can do for CIPN, so if you notice any of the symptoms, tell your doctor right away. There are medications that can help with pain. There's physical therapy, which can help with balance problems and trouble with the functioning of your hands. There are no known treatments for symptoms such as tingling and numbness, but for many people, this type of nerve damage repairs itself. There are some cases, however, in which the nerve damage doesn't ever completely go away.
The American Cancer Society; The National Cancer Institute