Peripheral neuropathy is damage to peripheral nerves. These are the nerves located away from the centre of the body, such as in the hands and feet, and the damage can cause a range of symptoms.
Cancer or cancer treatment can damage the peripheral nerves and lead to peripheral neuropathy. Unlike other cells in the body, nerve cells are not easily repaired or replaced once they are badly damaged. However, there are ways to manage the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Learn more about:
- What are the symptoms?
- The nervous system
- Key questions about peripheral neuropathy
- How it can affect you
- Diagnosing peripheral neuropathy
- Treating peripheral neuropathy
- Managing symptoms
- Tips for looking after yourself
- Questions for your doctor
People affected by peripheral neuropathy may experience different symptoms, depending on which peripheral nerves are damaged. No two cases are exactly the same.
Most often, the nerve damage causes numbness, tingling (“pins and needles”) or pain in the hands and feet. If the condition worsens, these symptoms may start to spread further up the arms and legs.
Other symptoms may include muscle weakness, dizziness, balance problems, trouble sensing where your body is in space, ringing in the ears, hearing loss and constipation.
Peripheral neuropathy symptoms range from mild to severe, they can appear during or after treatment, and they may be temporary or permanent. In more severe cases, the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can greatly affect a person’s quality of life, but there are usually ways to manage any changes.
The nervous system controls everything your body does. It has two main parts:
- central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord
- peripheral nervous system – a network of nerves that carry messages between the brain and spinal cord, and the body.
How nerves work
- Nerves are made up of nerve cells called neurons.
- When a nerve ending is stimulated, a tiny electrical signal is sent from neuron to neuron, eventually reaching the spinal cord and brain.
- When a peripheral nerve is damaged (e.g. by chemotherapy), the electrical signals may be blocked or mixed up. This can lead to a wide range of symptoms.
Dr Susanna Park, IN FOCUS research program and Senior Lecturer, Brain and Mind Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Katrina Dick, Consumer; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Phil Mendoza-Jones, Consumer; Jodie Nixon, Clinical Team Leader, Occupational Therapy, Cancer Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Rachel Tunney, Consumer; Jane Turner, Senior Exercise Physiologist, Sydney Cancer Survivorship Centre, Concord Hospital, NSW; Dr Shirley Wong, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Sunshine Hospital, Western Health, VIC.
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