The Link Between Chemotherapy and Peripheral Neuropathy

It seems that cancer is the gift that keeps on giving. Biopsies, scans, radiation, and chemo. There always seems to be one more side-effect for cancer patients to deal with. Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), unfortunately, is another unpleasant aspect of the treatment.

So, what is it? Can you avoid it? How do you manage symptoms if you get CIPN?

Peripheral neuropathy is damage to nerves farthest away from the brain or spine. The nerve damage causes them to send corrupted signals to the brain, which it often interprets as pain, numbness, or tingling. Cancer patients can develop neuropathy in three different ways from their treatment regimen.

  1. Cancer growth compresses the nerve
  2. Nerves damaged in surgery or through direct radiation
  3. As a side effect of chemotherapy drugs

The most common drugs to cause CIPN are:

  • Platinum drugs like oxaliplatin
  • Vinca alkaloids like vincristine
  • Taxanes like docetaxel
  • Myeloma treatments like bortezomib

There’s no guarantee you’ll develop CIPN if you take these drugs, but neuropathy is a symptom to watch for. Patients taking high doses or multiple doses over a long period are at greater risk.

Conditions that increase your likelihood of getting CIPN are diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, or existing neuropathy symptoms before starting treatment.

NIPN symptoms include:

  • Pins and needles or tingling
  • Burning
  • Numbness
  • Hypersensitivity to pressure or temperature changes
  • Pain
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle weakness

Symptoms may become noticeable weeks after treatment. If you develop CIPN, future rounds of treatment can worsen symptoms. While symptoms can fade over time, they may persist long after your chemo treatments are over.

Is CIPN Preventable?

As of now, no one treatment has definitively proven to prevent symptoms, but there are things you can do to improve your overall health and your body’s ability to fight both the cancer and cellular damage caused by treatment.

Diet: Although chemo can make food unappealing, nutrient deficiencies alone can cause neuropathy. They make you more susceptible to developing CIPN. Try to get adequate vitamins and minerals, carbs, fats, and proteins so your body has what it needs to repair itself. If you choose to take supplements, discuss them with your doctor to make sure there won’t be complications.

Exercise: Some days will be better than others, but try to get some physical movement regularly. Be careful if you have balance issues, and always wear good shoes to protect your feet from damage, as neuropathy can prevent you from feeling an injury.

Proven benefits of regular exercise for cancer patients include:

  • Better response to treatment
  • Reduced side effects
  • Improved recovery time after surgeries
  • Increased energy
  • Muscle mass retention
  • Maintained balance and mobility
  • Reduced chance of cancers returning
  • Increased good brain chemicals like endorphins that act as pain medication and improve overall mood
  • Less self-isolation and related depression

Self-care: Taking time to reduce stress and improve your mood consciously boosts your immune system and gives you a brighter outlook.

Chiropractic Care: Your chiropractor can help you through chemotherapy symptoms, easing your discomfort.

What If I Do Get CIPN?

Notify your care team immediately. Your oncologist can diagnose CIPN through an examination and may be able to adjust your care protocol. They may prescribe another type of chemo drug for future treatments or smaller doses. The sooner you notify them, the better.

Seek support from neuropathy experts. Just as you trust your oncologist to treat your cancer, find someone who specializes in chemo neuropathy treatment to advise you about treating your neuropathy symptoms. An expert has a wealth of knowledge and experience helping other patients just like you with these same symptoms.

Find a balance. Peripheral neuropathy, no matter the cause, is a balancing act. Extremes cause more discomfort. That means:

  • It would be best if you had some exercise to increase circulation to nerves, but too much can cause flare-ups and regret.
  • Cold and hot can trigger symptoms, so you run errands when the temperature is as moderate as it will get for the day.
  • Standing, sitting, or lying down for too long can be painful, so move around often to avoid too much pressure for too long on the same nerves.
  • Keep a journal so you can look for trends. If you consistently have flare-ups after eating sugar, it is better to change your diet. If you get better sleep at 70 degrees than 75, you can make adjustments to have greater comfort in the future.
  • Learn to recognize your limits and when to take it easy.

You Can Win the War

Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy isn’t fun, but it is manageable. Seek help as soon as you notice neuropathy symptoms. Early treatment can reduce symptoms and sometimes reverse the damage.


The information, including but not limited to, texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.

Suffering From Numbness, Tingling Or Pain In The Hands Or Feet? We Can Help.

Recent Blogs

Chiropractic Care: The First Choice For Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage in the extremities that feels like different pains, burning, tingling, numbness, or like stepping on objects that aren’t there. There are many reasons the symptoms might start, including the compression or pinching of the nerve,...

What Causes Pins and Needles in Your Hands and Feet?

When you feel itching, tingling, pricking, or numbness in your extremities it’s called paresthesia. It’s the feeling you get when your hand or foot “falls asleep.” Prolonged pressure on nerves or blood vessels can cause paresthesia. Often, all you need to do is shift...

Is Autonomic Nerve Damage Causing Your Symptoms?

If you've recently been diagnosed with nerve damage, like peripheral neuropathy, you may also experience symptoms of autonomic nerve damage. Autonomic neuropathy often goes undiagnosed because of the wide variety of symptoms. If the symptoms in this article sound...