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Periphery or peripheral refers to anything outside the brain and spinal cord. Neuropathy is defined as any damage to nerves. Peripheral neuropathy can be seen as damage to the nerves that is felt usually in the fingers and toes. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can including tingling, numbness, shooting pains, and sensitivity to touch and temperatures.
 

Certain chemotherapies are known for causing peripheral neuropathy as part of their side effects. Platinum-based chemos, taxanes and plant alkaloids are known for causing peripheral neuropathy. Not all chemotherapies cause this side effect, and if you are having the chemos mentioned does not mean you will develop peripheral neuropathy.

Chemotherapy goes throughout the entire body. And it can damage healthy cells, such as skin or hair follicles, resulting in dry skin or hair loss. Some chemo agents can damage nerve endings, and the result is peripheral neuropathy.  

Peripheral neuropathy usually starts in the toes or fingers and works it way up if it continues unmanaged. People usually describe their symptoms as follows:

  • Numbness
  • Burning pain
  • Shooting
  • Pain
  • Electrical shock
  • Pins and needles
  • Tingling
  • Not knowing where to put your foot when walking
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold

If you start experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to inform your doctor or nurse before your next chemotherapy appointment. Peripheral neuropathy can worsen if not managed, and delaying, reducing or slowing down your chemo treatment can stop the peripheral neuropathy worsening.

  • There are medications that can help with the burning or shooting pain. If you’re in pain, speak to your doctor about your choices in regards to pain relief.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, as alcohol can cause nerve damage, it can exacerbate peripheral neuropathy
  • Avoid extreme temperatures. As peripheral neuropathy can cause you to become more sensitive to hot and cold, avoid having very hot showers or baths, and keep your fingers and toes warm in cool months.
  • You may not notice constriction caused by shoes or clothes, so it is best to wear loose clothing
  • Look after your feet. Feet often get battered and not often looked at. But if you get a pebble in your shoe but you have numbness in your foot, you may not feel the pressure. This could lead to sores. Makes sure you wear appropriate footwear and keep your feet in good condition.
  • Be careful when using sharp instruments such as scissors and knives if you have peripheral neuropathy in your fingers and hands.
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