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Nerve Damage from Chemotherapy:
Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)

Just tell me what to take

What is CIPN?  
How to get relief

Cancer treatment drugs are called chemotherapy.  Chemotherapy drugs are toxic chemicals (poisons) that attack fast growing cells (rapidly dividing cells). The theory behind using these toxins is that it will destroy the fast growing cancer cells before it does too much damage to normal cells.

Hair is a quickly dividing, fast growing cell and this is the reason that hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy.

Bone marrow produces fast growing cells. Normally, when blood cells wear out in the body, they are replaced by new ones from the bone marrow.  When the chemotherapy drugs damage these fast growing cells, it can cause a low blood count, which can result in other side effects such as fatigue, headaches, and chills.  It is sometimes even necessary to do a blood transfusion. 

Nerve damage from chemotherapy drugs

Chemotherapy is hardest on the nervous system due to the fact that nerve cells are more sensitive than other cells. 

The nervous system transmits information between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the rest of the body.  It is designed to transmit feeling such as touch and temperature.   It delivers messages from sight; it delivers messages to the muscles to get them to move.

Because nerve cells are more sensitive to these toxins then other cells, they are often affected and can be damaged easily.   This may  also be the reason for cognitive problems following chemotherapy, also known as "chemo fog" or "chemo-brain".  

After exposure to the chemotherapy drugs, the cells that responsible for producing myelin, the fatty substance that helps insulate and protect nerve conducting fibers, can become damaged. 

Nervous system changes in chemotherapy patients can develop months or years after treatment.  The onset of these symptoms are variable.  Some drugs may cause symptoms during or immediately after the first dose, and some have a delayed onset of symptoms, up to several weeks, months, or even years after the last dose.

The severity of these symptoms is related to the cumulative dosage of the drug received.

Additionally, someone with pre-existing neuropathy (no matter what the cause) may be at risk for more severe and long lasting neuropathy.

Symptoms of Post Chemotherapy Neuropathy

Loss of feeling in the hands and feet can make it hard to pick up small objects and cause clumsiness and difficulty walking. Some people with nerve damage first notice a "pins and needles" feeling, not unlike when an arm or leg "falls asleep". Foot nerve damage after chemo is very common which results in stabbing pain and numbness. 

As motor nerves are the most sensitive to toxins, this nerve damage may make you feel clumsy and cause difficulty in daily activities such as opening jars, fastening buttons, or even squeezing toothpaste tubes.   Loss of balance and coordination is also due to this damage. 

Per the American Cancer Society, "Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is caused by the chemotherapy drugs used in cancer treatment."    (Neuropathy is also sometimes called paraesthesia or even myalgia.)

"The symptoms or signs of CIPN depend mostly on which nerves are involved. The most common symptoms are:

  • pain

  • burning

  • tingling (or a "pins and needles" feeling)

  • muscle shrinkage

  • weakness

  • balance problems

  • trouble with tripping and stumbling while walking

  • loss of feeling (numbness)

  • decreased or no reflexes

  • increased sensitivity to temperature (usually cold) or pressure, so that things hurt more than usual

  • constipation

  • trouble passing urine

  • blood pressure changes

  • trouble swallowing"

"CIPN often affects both sides of the body the same way; for example, the toes of both feet. It can cause severe pain and can affect your ability to do everyday things like walk, write, button your shirt, or pick up a coin. If it gets very bad it can cause very serious problems like changes in your heart rate, trouble breathing, paralysis, or organ failure"

This is the reason that medical doctors have to keep close watch over their patients when receiving chemotherapy.

Are these long-term side effects of chemotherapy?

When a person develops neuropathy due to chemotherapy, the oncologist will prescribe drugs to cover up the symptoms and the patient will get a pamphlet entitled “Living with Neuropathy”. There is hope that it will get better after the chemo is finished.  However, quite often, the damaged cell will continue to deteriorate and the symptoms will get worse. The only way to correctly manage this chronic neuropathy is to address the real causes, not the symptoms.

 

Can this be Reversed? 

 

There are many different treatments for Neuropathy. Making sure that anything might be contributing to the neuropathy needs to be addressed.


You can learn more about Neuropathy  

 

Treatments for Neuropathy

Medications:
 

Pros: There are several drug treatments for neuropathy. There are medications such as Lyrica and Cymbalta that are given cover up or block the pain. Lyrica, is an anti-seizure medication. It is used for neuropathy as it stops the nerves from talking to each other so you don't feel the pain. Cymbalta is a anti-depressant which is used because it lowers a person's awareness and thus their awareness of the pain. One drug occasionally used is Prednisone and also Elavil.  

Cons: You have to continue to take the drugs to get relief. 

Prednisone depletes the body of vital nutrients and there is a problem withdrawing from it (see Prednisone

Amitriptyline (Elavil) it lowers the awareness of the nerve damage but as with all medications, they have side effects that don't enhance your health.   

Additionally, Cymbalta as an anti-depressant can very often be difficult to get off with out side effects. For info on Cymbalta & Neuropathy  

Long term these drugs can cause more damage due to side effects and deficiencies it can create. 

For side effects of the different drugs go to www.drugs.com or www.rxlist.com   

If you are taking any mediation that has a side effect of neuropathy, you should talk to your doctor to see if there is an alternative medication. 

Rebuilder:  

Pros: Combines a footbath with an electrical current.  Claims to open up nerve channels and stimulate circulation to the affected area. It claims to  stimulate the nearby calf muscles to contract and relax, enhancing the local blood flow to bring fresh nutrients to the nerves and help remove accumulated toxins.  No information on how it would address neuroapthy in other areas of the body. See Rebuilder  

Cons: Cost. Inconclusive if this works for everyone or why electric current will "rebuild" nerves except for increasing circulation There are many anti-oxidants which will also increase circulation.. It also states it sends electric current up the foot through the sciatic nerve and down again so it addresses foot neuropathy only. 

Acupuncture:  

Pros: The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture has been known to help with the symptoms of neuropathy.  There is apparently an ability to improve circulation with this method that would give similar relief.  There is also acupressure which works on the same principles as acupuncture.  For more information go to Acupuncture

Cons: Acupuncture sometimes does not help with neuropathy. You also have to continue to get treatments. 

Alpha lipoic acid: 

Pros: This is as an anti-oxidant which will help protect the nerves so no further damage is done to the body. It can help with the symptoms. In order to help it needs to be taken with Alpha Lipoic Acid. There is evidence that they work together well in helping the body use nutrients to repair the nerves, but the vital B vitamins need to be taken with it. 

Cons:  None.  

Herbs:  

Pros: They will cover up the symptoms of neuropathy similar to drugs and can make you temporarily feel better, you must continue to take them. The body doesn't use them to build healthy nerves. 

Cons: There are problems with herbs. They can interact with any other medications that you are taking. They can have side effects. Herbs are similar to drugs in so far as (in therapeutic dosages as found in the herbs that you can buy) they make the body do what it wouldn't normally do. While you can use herbs in your salad and in tea without problems, when you take herbs in a supplement, they are extracts which are far stronger dosages. Herbs should be taken separately as if there is a problem, you can isolate what herb is causing the problem. The combination of herbs found in some supplements prohibit you from doing that. 

Remember, herbs are not vitamins. They are natural substances, but they aren't the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids & amino acids that the body needs to function, create energy and to repair itself. 

Herbs can make your neuropathy feel better, but aren't used by the body to repair the nerves. Thus, you need to keep taking them to continue the relief. There are some herbs which shouldn't be taken more than a few months like Feverfew or Ashwagandha.

When taking any herbs, check with your pharmacist. Pharmacies have databases where they can check for interactions and side effects. 

Glutamine & B6

Pros: Although no scientific evidence, some people with chemo induced neuropathy have said they had some relief.  

Cons:  There is, however, some concern that it may stimulate tumor growth.  

Anodyne Therapy:  Infrared light to increase circulation and stimulate production of nitric acid.  It is supposed to relax the arteries and eliminate free radicals. Pads are put over the injured areas.  Pain is supposed to be relieved with increased circulation and more nitric oxide in the blood.   Can treat common injuries.

Con: Relieves the symptoms but needs to be continued for relief. 

Homeopathic Formula:  Homeopathy can give temporary neuropathic pain relief without side effects or interactions with drugs.  What is homeopathy.

Cons:  They relieve the symptoms but doesn't address the problem. 

Topical creams: There are many different creams available that will bring relief from neuropathy pain. They can be applied as needed. Capsaicin is a common ingredient. it is used to relieve pain for arthritis, muscle pain, joint pain, as well as nerve pain.  It can address the inflammation.

Cons: They relieve but you must continue to use it for relief. Doesn't work for everyone. 

Cold Laser Treatment or Low Level Laser Therapy: It will give relief from pain. It is non-thermal and won't burn the surrounding area. It is trying to increase cellular activity. The laser delivers electric pulses to the target area which delivers a jolt that matches the pulse at which the body perceives pain. It claims to create a reduction in pain by causing the production of natural pain killer endorphins. 

Cons:  Again doesn't address the actual cause of the pain, so is relief only. 

None of the above treatments, will build healthy nerves.  You can cover up the symptoms and you can increase circulation and you can make a person feel less pain, etc., but you want to build healthy nerves. 

Rebuilding Healthy Nerves:  

Pros: 
Healthy sensory nerves means that they are not painful. Healthy nerves means that they communicate and don't send wrong signals such as burning, hot and cold, tingling when there is no reason for it. Healthy motor nerves means that they relay messages from the brain to the muscle so that they move correctly.  Nerves need to be healthy to function properly. 

The body needs specific nutrients (vitamins) to be able to build healthy nerves. 

Cons: It doesn't give immediate or temporary relief, but it does address the actual problem and creates healthy nerves. 

(For temporary relief while building healthy nerves, go to Pain Relief Formula )

Building Healthy Nerves:  Find out what is needed to build healthy nerves 

Chemo Brain     Chemo Side Effects   Causes of Neuropathy

 


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