Recover Overcoming Treatment Neuropathy
If you have peripheral neuropathy, then you know what it’s like to constantly have the affected part of your body feel like it’s always on “pins and needles” or always “asleep.”
It’s that persistent numbness you feel that never seems to go away completely. At times, it may feel less painful or annoying, but it doesn’t really disappear. It’s another daily reminder that you had breast cancer and chemotherapy treatments.
Chemotherapy is hardest on the nervous system because nerve cells are more sensitive than other cells in the body, so they are often more affected and can easily be damaged by treatment. This is also the reason for nerve damage to the brain, known as "chemo fog" or "chemo brain", and the peripheral neuropathy side effects of chemotherapy treatment.
Chemotherapy drugs such Taxol, Taxotere, vincristine and cisplatin can cause nerve damage or peripheral neuropathy, to the point where there is noticeable numbness, pain or tingling. In this case, chemotherapy doesn’t affect the nerves that are part of the brain and spinal cord. I nstead, it affects the nerves that carry messages from the brain and spinal cord to muscles, skin, internal organs and joints throughout the body.
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause symptoms during or immediately after the first dose, and some have a delayed onset of symptoms, perhaps up to several weeks, months -- or even years after the last dose. The severity of the symptoms is related to the cumulative dosage of chemotherapy received.
The majority of the peripheral nerves are responsible for sensations you feel such as touch, pain and temperature. There are literally millions of these nerve endings in your fingers, hands, toes and feet that are designed to keep you out of danger and away from the things that are hot, cold, sharp, etc.
Because of this, some of the symptoms of chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy are more sensory than motor, and the leading complaints are:
- Numbness or insensitivity to pain or temperature
- A tingling, burning or prickling sensation
- Sharp, burning pain or cramps
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, even a light touch
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle wasting
The loss of feeling in the hands and feet can make it challenging to pick up small objects and can cause clumsiness and loss of balance and coordination. It may also make simple things like opening jars, fastening buttons, squeezing toothpaste tubes and walking difficult.
Even though symptoms may diminish over a period of months or years after chemotherapy treatment ends, unfortunately in some cases nerve damage may be permanent.
So, how do you manage and treat the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and maintain quality of life?
You can start by maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes foods rich in folates and folic acid. Folates are vital to the building and repair work in cells, including the nerve cells.
Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin and is well-tolerated in amounts found in fortified foods and supplements. B vitamins include B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cyanocobalamin).
The New York Times Health Guide recommends eating fortified breads, cereals, pasta, whole grains, lean meats, fish, dried beans, peas and soybeans. They are the best sources of Vitamin B1. Wheat germ is the preferred whole- grain source, and lean pork the best meat source.
For Vitamin B3 deficiency, eat beef, pork and chicken and yeast products. Liver, kidneys, dairy and fish are rich in Vitamin B12. For Vitamin B6, eat lots of whole-grain cereals, liver, vegetables and muscle meats (beef, pork, poultry and fish). However, use caution with B6 foods. You should be mindful of any potential effects of long-term or excessive consumption of B6. Consult a nutritionist or your doctor about the diet that’s right for you, given your condition.
Vitamin E is also a valuable source for nerve health, according to the Mayo Clinic, and is found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals.
Other things that you can do to treat or manage peripheral neuropathy are:
Here are some resources that might help you better understand how treat and manage peripheral neuropathy:
- Wearing support stockings and supportive, cushioned shoes.
- Engaging in moderate exercise such as yoga and stretching to help you maintain flexibility and deal with any pain that accompanies numbness.
Daily Health News article on Natural Cures for Painful Neuropathy
Cancer Supportive Care programs publication on Chemotherapy-induced Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet
American Cancer Society’s support and treatment information on Peripheral Neuropathy Caused by Chemotherapy
University of Virginia Health System’s Peripheral Neuropathy and Vitamin B6
For more information on peripheral neuropathy, go to Breast Cancer Partner’s Resources. You can also share your knowledge and success with other survivors in our Partner Forum or at Survivor Tips.