Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is there anything I can do, such as take a vitamin supplement, to prevent neuropathy?
A. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to prevent neuropathy caused by cancer or treatments for cancer. Eating a healthful diet is always important. If you do take any supplements, be sure to tell your doctor, as some over-the-counter products may interact with chemotherapy. In addition, while you’re receiving cancer treatment, it’s important to avoid alcohol, which can increase the severity of neuropathy caused by chemotherapy. Most importantly, before starting chemotherapy and during your treatment, tell your doctor or nurse if you experience numbness and tingling in your hands and/or feet so that he or she can adjust your medication.
Q. I finished treatment two years ago with neuropathy. How long does neuropathy usually last? What treatments might I pursue?
A. Many cancer survivors experience post-treatment neuropathy. For some, the symptoms may lessen gradually over a period of weeks or months. For others, the symptoms may persist or even become chronic. It is difficult to provide a typical timeline of symptoms, because there is so much variation from case to case. Many factors impact the degree to which someone experiences neuropathy including:
- The type of chemotherapy drug or combination of drugs used
- The chemotherapy dosage
- The overall length of the treatment regimen
In addition, each person responds differently to chemotherapy. It’s important to seek out a consultation with an experienced neurologist if you are experiencing neuropathy. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments available to help manage the chronic pain and discomfort caused by neuropathy. For mild symptoms, over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Motrin may be adequate. For more severe symptoms, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication; anti-convulsant medication to help calm the nerves and central nervous system; or antidepressants to decrease the chemicals in the brain that transmit pain signals. Physical therapy may improve balance and strength while occupational therapy may improve the fine motor skills used in tasks like writing or buttoning a shirt. Alternative treatments such as biofeedback, acupuncture, or transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) are also available. Your health care team can work with you to determine the best treatment or combination of treatments to address your situation.
Q. Any tips for dealing with neuropathy in cold weather?
A. Some may find neuropathy particularly challenging in the cold weather. Prolonged exposure to the cold causes the body to slow blood circulation to the hands and feet in an effort to preserve the body’s core temperature. The reduced blood flow can intensify neuropathy symptoms and potentially cause further damage to already affected peripheral nerves. This is of special concern to those who experience their neuropathy pain as a numbness or tingling sensation. Their ability to measure the effects of the cold is compromised since they already experience those physical warning signals that would otherwise indicate a need to get to warmer conditions.
It is important to know that some particular types of chemotherapy, such as oxaliplatin, may cause cold induced neuropathy. Discuss specific preventative strategies with your provider if you are receiving one of these agents.
Tips to lessen the pain and lower your risk of further nerve damage:
- Wear warm, dry clothing in cold weather.
- Protect your hands and feet by wearing thick socks, thick mittens or gloves.
- Take intermittent breaks from the cold to reduce your exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Limit or avoid caffeine before an outing as it can temporarily cause blood vessels to narrow.
- Do not smoke as cigarette smoke can slow circulation.
- Limit alcohol use since excessive consumption can lead to vitamin deficiency which can, in turn, damage peripheral nerves.
- Incorporate exercise into your routine to improve overall circulation.
- Explore comfort measures like massage or use of flexible splints for support.