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Cancer and Neuropathy

What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Cancer, and often the treatments for cancer, can cause a condition called peripheral neuropathy (PN) that can affect the extremities and cause numbness and pain. PN is especially common in the feet, where it can cause feelings of numbness, burning, coldness, tingling, and pain. Those experiencing changes in the way their feet sense the ground are at a high risk for tripping and falling. PN can keep tired patients up at night because it can cause even their sheets against their feet to be painful or it can come with so much numbness that patients may try to step into a hot bath without realizing that they are at risk for a burn. It is an especially difficult condition to deal with on its own, let alone alongside cancer, and it can affect one in five cancer patients.

foot pain


PN is caused by damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system, which are responsible for communicating touch information to the brain and spinal cord. When these nerves are affected, they can send incorrect signals to the brain, which are then processed, causing the patient to experience feelings of heat, cold, or tingling. If this damage is caused by medication and not a disease process, ending or lowering the medication can provide some relief. It is possible to fully recover from PN, though some people find the symptoms persist over years.


PN can be approached from many different angles. The most common treatment is pain management. This can come in the form of oral medications, Lidocaine patches, or topical creams that can reduce the pain. Additionally, anti-seizure medications are sometimes prescribed to relieve the nerve pain. Finally, some anti-depressants have shown promise in disrupting the way the brain processes pain. As for interventions that treat the nerve damage itself, that is more limited to reducing cancer treatment medications or ending the cancer disease process.

If you are experiencing peripheral neuropathy, there is hope. The earlier you notify your doctor of symptoms, the better. And though it may be frightening, the good news is, that for most people, it is not forever.