Neuropathy is a condition that occurs as a result of nerve damage. Peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the peripheral nerves, is one type of neuropathy and an often unexpected complication of cancer treatment. Here are five things you should know:
1. What does “peripheral neuropathy” really mean?
Peripheral nervous system is the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord. Your hands and feet (and the rest of your body) have nerves that tell you where your extremities are in relation to your body, help regulate temperature, and signal pain. When you touch something hot, your peripheral nerves signal your central nervous system and your hand quickly pulls away.
Your peripheral nerves act like messengers between your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the rest of your body. Peripheral neuropathy refers to the damage done to the peripheral nervous system, which disrupts the messengers’ ability to carry information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. There are three different types of peripheral nerves that may be damaged by neuropathy: Sensory nerves, Motor nerves, and Autonomic nerves.
2. Who is affected?
Neuropathy is classified by types, which are named based on the specific nerves that are affected. Neuropathy, in general, affects about one to two percent of Americans. The most common type of neuropathy among cancer survivors is peripheral neuropathy.
It is estimated that 10–20 percent of cancer patients experience some form of peripheral neuropathy. Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) is a possible side-effect of chemotherapy and affects about 30–40 percent of cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. Ask your health care team about the short and long-term effects of chemotherapy you have received. Specifically, cancer types associated with higher risk include: lung, breast, ovarian, myeloma, lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease and testicular. Certain factors about the diagnosis and treatments may also heighten risk, such as tumor location, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and other cancer related disorders.
Other life factors and certain medication may also increase the risk of neuropathy, such as excessive use of alcohol and old age. Learn more about these factors here.
3. What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy can cause a tingling sensation or numbness in different parts of the body, but most commonly in the hands and feet. An individual’s personal experience of neuropathy depends on the types of peripheral nerves affected, the symptoms experienced from damage to those nerves, and the severity of those symptoms. Each person’s experience may vary.
4. So what if I’m diagnosed with neuropathy, what’s next?
Treatment and recovery times vary from case to case, but peripheral nerves can heal and recovery is possible. Depending on the cause of peripheral neuropathy and the type of nerve damage involved, a variety of different treatment options may be recommended by your health care team. These typically include:
- Medication. Doctor prescribed medication doesn’t cure neuropathy but can help subside the pain and other side-effects.
- Nutrition. Specific nutrients have proven to help manage neuropathy. Vitamin deficiencies can cause damage to nerve tissue, so it is important to maintain a healthy diet. A registered dietician can help you build a meal plan.
- Physical or occupational therapy. Keeping muscles active and strong is beneficial to improving coordination and balance and reducing muscle cramps and pain. It can also help prevent injuries related to falls and loss of fine motor skills.
- Integrative medicine. This treatment includes treatments such as massage and acupuncture to manage symptoms.
5. How can I be my own advocate?
Speak up about your symptoms to your health care team to get proper care. Educating yourself ensures you are best informed to make decisions about your treatment and will help you better communicate with your doctor, your family, and your friends about your needs.
You can take action to foster your own recovery and safety by:
- Practicing appropriate pain relief. It is important to stay in control of your pain to maintain your quality of life. Ask your doctor for their recommendations on how to manage your pain.
- Implementing as much movement and activity as appropriate into your routine.
- Making sure your home is a safe environment to prevent possible tripping/falling. Examples include assuring proper lighting in hallways, using rugs for traction, and installing handrails. Find more safety tips for home here.
Surround yourself with ample support, information, and encouragement. Coping with peripheral neuropathy can be a long, difficult process, and it is important to know you are not alone. Share your feelings with friends, family, or a support group.
Article Provided By: LIVESTRONG