Some chemotherapy drugs or radiation treatments can damage the nerves far away from the brain and spinal cord. This is called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). These nerves carry the sensation of feeling to the brain, and control the movement of your arms and legs. They also control the bladder and bowel. Neuropathy can develop at any stage of your cancer journey, including after your treatments have ended.

Who is more likely to develop neuropathy?

Cancer treatments can cause neuropathy. The cancer types with a higher risk of neuropathy include: lung, breast, ovarian, myeloma, lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and testicular. Here are a few more factors that can increase the chances of developing neuropathy:

  • Being an older patient
  • A family history of neuropathy
  • Lack of nourishment
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Having a preexisting medical condition like diabetes or thyroid problems

Neuropathy most often affects both sides of the body in the same way. It can begin any time after treatment starts, and it often gets worse as treatments go on. Symptoms tend to start far away from the head but move closer over time. In most cases, people will first notice symptoms in the tips of the finger or toes and can progress over time.

Neuropathy can affect your ability to do everyday things like walk, write, button your shirt, or pick up coins. It can also cause more serious problems like changes in your heart rate and blood pressure, trouble breathing, or even organ failure. The most common symptoms are:

  • Stabbing pain or burning
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Trouble picking up things or holding things
  • Muscle weakness or loss of balance

More severe forms of neuropathy can cause:

Sometimes the symptoms of neuropathy may go away soon after treatment is done. In other cases, they can take years to resolve. In the worst cases, neuropathy symptoms may never go away.

Talk to your doctor or nurse right away about any signs of neuropathy that you may have. They’ll watch you closely to see if the problems get worse, and may need to change your follow-up care plan. There are a number of treatment options and ways your doctor can lower the risk of neuropathy.