Q. I stopped cancer treatment some time ago and am still struggling with neuropathy. How long does neuropathy usually last? What treatments might I pursue?

A.

Many cancer survivors experience post-treatment neuropathy. For some, the symptoms may lessen gradually over a period of weeks or months. For others, the symptoms may persist or even become chronic. It is difficult to provide a typical timeline of symptoms, because there is so much variation from case to case. Many factors impact the degree to which someone experiences neuropathy including:

  • the type of chemotherapy drug or combination of drugs used
  • the chemotherapy dosage
  • the overall length of the treatment regimen.

In addition, each person responds differently to chemotherapy.

It’s important to seek out a consultation with an experienced neurologist if you are experiencing neuropathy. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments available to help manage the chronic pain and discomfort caused by neuropathy. For mild symptoms, over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Motrin may be adequate. For more severe symptoms, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medication; anti-convulsant medication to help calm the nerves and central nervous system; or antidepressants to decrease the chemicals in the brain that transmit pain signals. Physical therapy may improve balance and strength while occupational therapy may improve the fine motor skills used in tasks like writing or buttoning a shirt. Alternative treatments such as biofeedback, acupuncture, or transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) are also available. Your health care team can work with you to determine the best treatment or combination of treatments to address your situation.

Since other health issues may cause or further aggravate nerve damage, it is important to consult regularly with your medical team. Other underlying medical conditions can contribute to your symptoms. Diabetes, autoimmune disorders, kidney disease, or physical trauma are just a few of the other common causes of neuropathy. Your health care team should conduct a thorough assessment of your risk to determine whether other kinds of interventions would be helpful for you.

It’s also a good idea to keep track of your neuropathy symptoms, so that you can provide detailed reports about your symptoms to your health care team.

For more information about neuropathy, please visit CancerCare’s neuropathy resources or The Neuropathy Association’s website. The Neuropathy Association also offers a list of U.S. neuropathy medical centers.