Some cancer treatments and tumors can damage peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves are ones that are away from the brain and spinal cord. They work to provide sensations of touch, movement, and organ function. Damage to these nerves is known as neuropathy. Neuropathy is a common side effect of cancer treatment.
Diabetes, thyroid problems, and chemotherapy may increase your chances of having neuropathy.
Neuropathy can cause discomfort due to pain, tingling, weakness, and numbness. This can affect your ability to do everyday activities like:
- Getting dressed.
- Brushing your teeth and hair.
- Handling small objects.
But there are things you can do to ease neuropathy symptoms during your cancer treatment.
- Other cancer treatments, like surgery or radiation.
- Tumors pressing on nerves.
- Infections that affect the nerves.
- Spinal cord injuries.
- Other conditions such as diabetes, vitamin deficiency, and autoimmune disease.
Neuropathy might last a short time or become a long-term problem. Learn how age and other factors can affect how long neuropathy lasts.
Neuropathy signs and symptoms depend on which nerves are involved. Neuropathy might get worse as treatment goes on. Many people first notice symptoms in their feet, then later have symptoms in their hands. Symptoms may start in the toes then move upward to their ankles and legs. Or symptoms may begin in the fingers and move upward to the hands and arms. You might have pain all the time or pain that comes and goes.
- Neuropathy affects different people in different ways. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Pain, which you may feel all the time or just sometimes, when it comes on suddenly, like a shooting pain.
- Feeling a hot, burning sensation.
- Feeling pins and needles—tingling.
- Feeling nothing at all, or losing the ability to feel pressure, touch, heat, or cold.
- Trouble holding things or using your fingers.
- Learn if your symptoms might be signs of neuropathy.
- Find out if the chemo drugs you are taking are linked to neuropathy.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
If neuropathy gets very bad, it can cause more serious problems like dangerous falls, problems using the bathroom, trouble breathing, and changes in your heart rate and blood pressure. It is important to communicate with your health care team about your neuropathy symptoms.
- Track the neuropathy symptoms that you experience.
- Talk to your doctor right away about any neuropathy symptoms you have. Your health care team will want to keep an eye on your symptoms to see if they get worse.
- Ask your doctor whether you should see a cancer rehabilitation specialist for help with your neuropathy.
- Changing chemo drugs or your treatment plan might help ease neuropathy symptoms. Talk to your health care provider about your treatment options.
So far, there is no sure way to prevent neuropathy. But your doctor might suggest some ways to lower your risk.
- Some vitamins, dietary supplements, and other drugs are being looked at to see if they can help protect nerve cells from damage. Find out what research studies show about these treatments.
- Be sure to manage any other medical conditions you have that may cause neuropathy, like diabetes or HIV infection.
Treatments for Neuropathy
Treatment for neuropathy as you are being treated for cancer can often help make neuropathy symptoms less troublesome.
There are various treatment options that can be used to help relieve pain that can come with neuropathy. You may have to use more than one type of treatment to help relieve pain.
Explore Treatment Options
- Medications are one way to manage pain and other neuropathy symptoms. Learn about medications that might help.
- Physical or occupational therapy, exercise, or other cancer rehabilitation techniques can also help. Learn about other treatments that can be tried to ease nerve pain and its effects on your life.
Take Simple Steps
Nerve problems can have a big impact on your everyday life. But there are simple everyday things you can do to manage your symptoms, such as:
- Using medicines as recommended by your doctor.
- Keeping your hands and feet warm and covered in cold weather.
- Protecting your hands by wearing gloves when you clean, work outdoors, or do repairs.
- Giving yourself extra time to do things carefully.
- Using a nightlight or flashlight at night to keep you from bumping into things.
- Using handrails or other aids to help with balance and avoid falls.
For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.
Talk to Your Health Care Team
Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.
Talk to Family and Friends
Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.
Find Peer Support
Talk About Your Concerns
Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.
Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online
The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.
NCI Cancer Information Service
Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.
The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.
ACS National Cancer Information Center
Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.