It’s important to tell your doctor as soon as possible if you experience these types of side effects, particularly if you are still receiving therapy, as this may affect chemotherapy recommendations. Typically, doctors treating neuropathy aim to reduce pain. Commonly used treatments include:
Antidepressant medications. Antidepressant may help relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy. Doses prescribed are often smaller than the doses that doctors typically use to treat depression.
Anticonvulsants. Anticonvulsants alone or in combination with antidepressant medications can be helpful in treating neuropathic pain.
Steroid. Steroid medications are sometimes used in the short run to relieve severe neuropathic pain until a better long-term treatment plan is in place.
Patches or creams. Patches or creams can be applied directly to the painful site and can be especially helpful in managing neuropathic pain.
Opioids. Opioids, such as morphine, are often used in combination with other medications to manage severe neuropathic pain.
Physical, occupational, and relaxation therapy, can be effective for neuropathic pain. Strengthening muscles can help improve balance and coordination. In some cases, acupuncture or biofeedback, a technique in which a patient watches measures of his or her own bodily functions (such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle tension), can be helpful.
Vitamins. B vitamins may sometimes be utilized to treat neuropathy, such as vitamin B6. All vitamins should be discussed with your doctor prior to initiating. It is very helpful to work with a pain specialist who can recommend a good treatment plan. This is especially important if your symptoms have not responded to your current treatment. A second opinion is always valuable because it either confirms your doctor’s advice or offers more information.
As you manage your cancer, it’s important to remember that you are a consumer of health care. The best way to make decisions about health care is to educate yourself about your diagnosis and get to know the members of your health care team, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, social workers and patient navigators.
Here are some tips for improving communication with your health care team:
Start a health care journal. Having a health care journal or notebook will allow you to keep all of your health information in one place. You may want to write down the names and contact information of the members of your health care team, as well as any questions for your doctor. Keep a diary of your daily experiences with symptoms related to your illness or treatment. You can separate your journal or notebook into different sections to help keep it organized.
Prepare a list of questions. Before your next medical appointment, write down your questions and concerns. Because your doctor may have limited time, you should ask your most important questions first, and be as specific and brief as possible. Questions you may want to ask your health care team:
- What is causing my peripheral neuropathy?
- What can I do to manage the pain?
- Is the recommend treatment for my peripheral neuropathy covered by my insurance?
- Should I avoid certain activities while experiencing symptoms?
- How long can I expect symptoms to last?
Bring someone with you to your appointments. Even if you have a journal and a prepared list of questions or concerns, it’s always helpful to have support when you go to your appointments. The person who accompanies you can serve as a second set of ears. He or she may also think of questions to ask your doctor or remember details about your symptoms or treatment that you may have forgotten.
Write down your doctor’s answers. Taking notes will help you remember your doctor’s responses, advice, and instructions. If you cannot write down the answers, ask the person who accompanies you to do that for you. If you have a mobile device, ask if you can use it to take notes. Writing notes will help you review the information later.
Record your visit if your doctor allows it. Recording the conversation with your doctor gives you a chance to hear specific information again or share it with family members or friends.
Incorporate other health care professionals into your team. Your medical oncologist is an essential member of your health care team, but there are other health care professionals who can help you manage your diagnosis and treatment:
- Your primary care physician should be kept updated about your cancer treatment and any test results.
- Your local pharmacist is a great source of knowledge about the medications you are taking; have all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy to avoid the possibility of harmful drug interactions.
- Make sure your oncologists know of any other medical conditions you have, or any pain you are experiencing, so that they can consult with your primary care physician or your specialist if needed. Be sure you communicate all therapies you receive, including supplement use and alternative care modalities such as acupuncture, massage, etc.
Remember, there is no such thing as over-communication. Your health care team wants to know about how you’re feeling overall, which includes your level of pain, your energy level, your appetite, and your mood and spirits.