Cancer is one of the most persistent scourges we face as medical professionals.  Not only are the various types of cancer extremely dangerous, but the methods to combat them, including chemotherapy, can be aggressive to the point of heavily impacting a patient’s quality of life.  In short, the side effects are dramatic.  Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients in North America alone receive chemotherapy every year, and many of them experience damage to the peripheral nervous system—chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, or CIPN.
Like most neuropathy, chemotherapy-caused neuropathy presents in most patients in the form of pain, numbness, tingling, and loss of temperature sensation, most commonly in their extremities.  Other symptoms, while less ubiquitous, are still common: loss of bladder control, constipation, loss of body awareness, and difficulty walking or standing.  Sometimes the condition is chronic, and a patient will have to adjust their lifestyle to living with chronic pain.   In many cases, however, we can manage the pain and discomfort from chemotherapy-caused neuropathy, and help a cancer survivor lead a normal, active life.
The best line of defense we have where patients are concerned is communication.  It’s imperative that patients report any unusual sensations, pain, or numbness to you and their oncologist.  Like any neuropathy, the sooner we identify a problem, the more options we will have when it comes to treatment.  In some cases of complications, it can be prudent to delay or suspend chemotherapy treatments in order to give a patient’s nerves an opportunity to recover.
It is also vital to train patients to protect their peripheral nervous system, which is already under strain from the chemotherapy.  Patients should wear gloves when performing manual labor.  Encourage them to wear well-fitting shoes and clothing, as loose clothing can rub and cause abrasions (which aggravate neuropathy symptoms).  You can help your patients develop a diet and exercise regimen that will contribute to their overall nerve stimulation and health (Contact NeuropathyDR® if you have any questions about proper nutrition and exercise for neuropathy patients, we are happy to answer them).  Of course, managing the underlying condition is the most important factor in treating any kind of neuropathy, so be aware of the specific course of treatment your patient is undergoing for their cancer.
Our patient, Joanne, knows firsthand how hard chemotherapy can be on the nervous system.  Joanne is a cancer survivor who, when she came to us, had been recovering from the effects of her chemotherapy for five years.  Along with most of the common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, Joanne complained of severe pain in her lumbar back, extreme stiffness in her neck and shoulders, and weakness in her legs.  Joanne’s pain, especially in her feet, was intense to the point of affecting her daily lifestyle.  She was taking medication for pain, but the medicine was marginally effective at best.

One of your biggest challenges will be managing your patient's expectations from treatment.

Our treatment plan for Joanne involved a combination of manual therapy to her spine, as well as topical and oral nutrition, and different forms neurostimulation to her feet and hands in a variety of applications. We treated Joanne three times a week for five weeks; in only four weeks, Joanne was commenting that her symptoms had subsided dramatically. Immediately following each treatment, Joanne noticed a reduction in her pain level.  By her final treatment, the pain and numbness in her feet had subsided 65-70%!
In a thank-you note Joanne wrote us not long after the resolution of her NeuropathyDR® treatment plan, Joanne told us she had been able to stop taking her pain medications and was feeling fine, almost entirely pain-free.  Her strength had begun to return, and her mobility improved as well.
Joanne is a success story we are proud to have to our credit.   To be entirely honest, not all patients show the level of improvement we saw in Joanne in such a short time.  Even so, it goes to show that not only is there hope for cancer survivors who live with neuropathy pain, but in some cases the recovery we promote for patients can be swift and dramatic.  If you work with patients who are receiving or have received chemotherapy, odds are good you encounter neuropathy.  Be equipped to provide them with the best care!  NeuropathyDR® is your resource for healthcare professionals interested in helping neuropathy and chronic pain patients to lead more normal, pain-free lives.  We can provide you with the best support training and materials. Every day we refer patients to our team of trained professionals.
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