PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY

This PLAIN summary is based on the PanCareFollowUp guideline about “Gastro-intestinal problems” [1], which is based on the consensus of different national guidelines.

PLAIN version 1: 22/11/2023

Peripheral neuropathy

Our nerves are responsible for sending signals from the body to the brain and from the brain to the body. The nerves outside the brain or spinal cord are called peripheral nerves. There are different kinds of peripheral nerves. The ones involved in peripheral neuropathy are:

  • Sensory nerves allow us to feel different sensations: eg. the difference between warm and cold, pain, touch, smell, etc.
  • Motor nerves allow us to move.

Damage to one or multiple peripheral nerves is called peripheral neuropathy. This damage can cause different problems, such as pain, numb hands or feet or loss of balance. Which problem occurs depends on the location and type of nerve that is damaged.

Am I at higher risk of peripheral neuropathy?

Anyone, including people who have never had cancer treatment, may develop peripheral neuropathy. However, there are some cancer treatments that may increase the risk of having peripheral neuropathy later in life. The problems that can occur depend on the type of cancer treatment received.

The following treatments can increase the risk of peripheral neuropathy:

  • A group of chemotherapy drugs called vinca-alkaloids
  • Chemotherapy with cisplatin or carboplatin

You can find out if you have received any of these treatments by looking at your treatment summary. If you do not have a treatment summary or if you have any questions, do contact your treating hospital.

If you experience peripheral neuropathy, it does not always mean that this is caused by your cancer treatment. Peripheral neuropathy may have other causes, such as diabetes, alcohol usage or an injury.

What are the symptoms and signs of peripheral neuropathy?

There are symptoms and signs that can tell you if you might have peripheral neuropathy. You might not have these symptoms and signs at the moment, but it is important to be aware of them in case they may develop in the future.

These symptoms and signs may suggest that you have peripheral neuropathy:

  • Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
  • Burning or sharp pain in the feet or hands
  • Difficulties with walking or balance
  • Discolouration or coldness in feet or hands
  • Weakness of one or more muscles

If you recognise any of these symptoms or signs in yourself, please contact a general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.

What happens if I have peripheral neuropathy?

If you have peripheral neuropathy, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist will probably refer you to a specialist. Depending on the symptoms and/or signs you experience, you may be referred to a:

  • Neurologist (physician specialised in the brain and spinal cord)
  • Physiotherapist (healthcare professional specialised in exercise)

The specialist may discuss different options with you. If you experience (a lot of) pain, the doctor can prescribe medication to relieve the pain. The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may lessen or go away over time, but in some cases they never go away. You may find physical therapy or psychological support beneficial.

What else can I do?

Knowing you may be at increased risk of peripheral neuropathy can be difficult. Talking to friends and family can be helpful as well as specialist counselling and/or contact with support groups, such as patient organisations. For more information on taking care of your mental health, please read: Mental health problems.

Although it may not lower your risk of peripheral neuropathy, it is very important to live a healthy lifestyle. Taking care of your mental health may be beneficial; even small changes to your lifestyle can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. For more information on taking up a healthier lifestyle, please read: Health promotion.

It is important that you are aware of the possibility of developing peripheral neuropathy and that you know the symptoms and signs. If you have any further questions or the information in this brochure concerns you, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.

Where can I find more information?

You may find more information about peripheral neuropathy online. However, it is important to be aware that this information is not always up to date or accurate.

Some sources of further information are:

  • NHS: Here you can find more information about peripheral neuropathy in general

On this website, you can also find more information related to this topic:

Please note

This PLAIN summary is based on the PanCareFollowUp guideline about “Gastro-intestinal problems” ” class=”” id=””][1], which is based on the consensus of different national guidelines.

While the PanCare PLAIN information group strives to provide accurate and complete information that is up-to-date as of the date of publication, you can check with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist if this summary reflects the most up-to-date information available and whether it is relevant for you.

Please do not rely solely on this information. It is best to also seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom.

No warranty or representation, expressed or implied, is made concerning the accuracy, reliability, completeness, relevance, or timeliness of this information. PanCare has produced the English version and PanCare is not responsible for the translated versions of this summary.

[1] van Kalsbeek, R. et al. (2021) European PANCAREFOLLOWUP recommendations for surveillance of late effects of childhood, adolescent, and Young Adult Cancer, European journal of cancer. Available at: https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(21)00368-3/fulltext.