Sometimes anticancer drugs can cause problems with your body's nerves. One example of a condition affecting the nervous system is
peripheral neuropathy, where you feel a tingling, burning, weakness, or numbness or pain in feet and legs. Some drugs can also affect the muscles, making them weak, tired, or sore.
Sometimes these nerve and muscle side effects, though annoying, may not be serious. In other cases, nerve and muscle symptoms may be serious and need medical attention. Be sure to report any nerve or muscle symptoms to your doctor. Most of the time, these symptoms will get better; however, it may take up to a year after your treatment ends.
Some nerve and muscle-related symptoms include: TinglingBurningWeakness or numbness in the hands and/or feetFeeling colder than normalPain when walkingWeak, sore, tired, or achy musclesLoss of balanceClumsinessDifficulty picking up objects and buttoning clothingShaking or tremblingWalking problemsHearing lossStomach painConstipation
Tell your doctor as soon as symptoms appear so they can be promptly treated.
Here are some tips that may help:
If your fingers are numb, be very careful when grasping objects that are sharp, hot, or otherwise dangerous.If your sense of balance or muscle strength is affected, avoid falls by moving carefully, using handrails when going up or down stairs, and using bath mats in the bathtub or shower. Use a cane or other walking aid if needed.If possible, always wear shoes with rubber soles, such as sneakers.When bathing, check the temperature of your bath water with a thermometer.
This will help you avoid getting burned by water that is too hot.Be careful when cooking. Take steps to avoid cutting or burning yourself.Wear gloves when cooking, washing dishes, or gardening.Rest when you feel tired.Ask your doctor for pain medication. There are multiple different medications available that can effectively treat the pain related to neuropathy. In certain situations your doctor may refer you to a cancer pain specialist for further treatment.
acupuncture. Many people with acute neuropathy find acupuncture helpful. It usually takes 2-5 treatments before beneficial effects can be appreciated. Acupuncture treatment is in some cases covered by medical insurance.
Check with your doctor to see if you are at risk for infection from accupuncture because of low white blood cell counts.
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Shlay JC, Chaloner K, Max MB, et al. Acupuncture and amitriptyline for pain due to HIV-related peripheral neuropathy: a randomized controlled trial. Terry Beirn Community Programs for Clinical Research on AIDS.
Understanding chemotherapy: a guide for patients. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/treatmenttypes/chemotherapy/understandingchemotherapyaguideforpatientsandfamilies/understanding-chemotherapy-more-side-effects-nerve-and-muscle-problems. Updated March 17, 2013. Accessed February 5, 2014.
Visovsky C, Collins M, Abbott L, Aschenbrenner J, Hart C. Putting evidence into practice: evidence-based interventions for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2007 Dec; 11(6):901-13.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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