Getting rid of tumors is, of course, the primary goal of cancer treatment. But even when they are out and about – and after the treatment has been completed – the doctors’ quality of life is equally important to their patients, especially since certain cancer treatments can lead to side effects that affect the patient’s daily life.
Neuropathy, which causes pain, tingling, burning, or numbness in the hands and feet is a side effect that can be especially difficult to treat, says Lisa Rogers, DO, a neuro-oncologist with the Henry Ford Health System. Decreased muscle tone and loss of sensation in the feet can cause balance problems and lead to falls.
“Patients with neuropathy feel really uncomfortable,” says Dr. Rogers. “We often cannot cure these symptoms, but there is much we can do to help.”
What Causes Neuropathy and How Doctors Can Help
Certain chemotherapies can cause inflammation or damage the nerves directly and cause neuropathy, says Dr. Rogers. Common culprits include taxanes, vincristine, bortezomib, and platinum-based chemotherapies. However, not everyone who receives these drugs will develop neuropathy. And the duration and severity of the neuropathy are unpredictable.
To diagnose neuropathy, patients ‘symptoms are scored and a rating scale is used to rate the neuropathy and the patients’ quality of life, says Dr. Rogers. Electromyography, which assesses nerve stimulation, can detect nerve damage in selected patients. Thereafter, specific treatment strategies are developed for each patient.
Treatments may include oral and topical medications and / or acupuncture to relieve pain. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy can strengthen muscles and help adjust to numbness. After treatment, patients undergo an assessment to grade the neuropathy and measure their quality of life.
Hope for future research
Research into the mechanisms of chemoneuropathy is currently under investigation.
“Since the processes by which neuropathy occurs are not fully known, it is difficult to prevent this complication, but we are actively exploring new treatments,” says Dr. Rogers. “I use all available therapies and in different combinations. Integrative therapies, including massage therapy, relaxation therapy, stress management, guided visualization, and good nutrition are also explored. In the future, clinical studies and research will give our patients more hope. “
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To schedule an appointment with a cancer specialist, visit henryford.com/cancer or call (888) 777-4167.
Dr. Lisa Rogers is a neuro-oncologist at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute and a member of the Ermine Brain Tumor Center. She sees patients at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Brownstown, the Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, and the new Detroit Cancer Pavilion.