People living with cancer and coping with its treatment may experience nerve symptoms, which they often describe as pain, tingling, burning, or numbness. Some people with cancer also have problems with coordination and balance. All of these symptoms may be caused by peripheral neuropathy (as known as nerve damage). In this condition, nerves outside the brain and spinal cord have been damaged, often by the cancer treatments. Sometimes the symptoms are temporary and gradually decrease after cancer treatments are completed. At other times, the symptoms may persist, requiring ongoing medical attention and care. Sometimes the neuropathy affects only one nerve. At other times, it occurs in several nerves.
Although peripheral neuropathy may be a side effect of cancer treatment, it may also be caused by other conditions not associated with cancer, such as diabetes. That is why it is so important to talk with your health care team when you experience any symptoms. This can help your doctor weigh the likelihood of one versus another as being the reason for the symptoms. For example, coughing and sniffling could be caused by hay fever, the overuse of a nasal decongestant spray, or the common cold. Peripheral neuropathy could be caused by the cancer itself, cancer treatments, or other conditions, as we discuss in the next section. Understanding the cause helps doctors offer the right treatment.